Money, the Environment, and War

Joe Green

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Enemies of the Mexican People, by Juan O'Gorman

The intimate link between private money and national policies is well-known. "To get elected these days, what matters most is not sound judgment or personal integrity or a passion for justice. What matters most is money. Lots of money."42 This observation is backed up by a considerable amount of research. For instance, in one study money emerged "as the first and most essential element in political party activity and effectiveness in the 1980s."43 Another study shows that "campaign spending has a significant effect on the outcomes of congressional elections."44

Common sense suggests that political donations are worthwhile investments. Indeed, studies show a "disturbing correlation between ... campaign contributions and how members of Congress ... vote on bills important to special interest groups."45 A former counsel for President Carter says: "It's one step away from bribery. PACs contribute because they count on you to vote with them."46

Apart from "the exceptionally wealthy," says chief Washington correspondent of a major daily, "raising political money has become a throbbing headache that drains vital time and energy from the job of governing. This chore leaves many members part-time legislators and full-time fund-raisers."47 Naturally, organizations which benefit from environmental neglect enrich the campaign coffers of politicians who are willing to tolerate it. One member of Congress quipped once that "business already owns one party and now it has a lease, with option to buy, on the other."48

Over the years we have gotten used to occasional outbursts on this issue, not only from reformers but from frustrated or about-to-be-retired members of the power elite. Two "old-line conservatives" who, by 1986, "have been senators a combined total of 68 years:" "It is not 'we the people' but political-action committees and moneyed interests who are setting the nation's political agenda and are influencing the position of candidates on the important issues of the day," said one senator. "We are gradually moving elections away from the people," said the other, "as certainly as night follows day."49

The "terrible pressures" a politician faces in our system, said a John F. Kennedy's ghostwriter, "discourage acts of political courage" and often drive him to "abandon or subdue his conscience."50 "Searching for campaign money," said a former U.S. Vice President, "is a disgusting, degrading, demeaning experience. It is about time we cleaned it up."51 A U.S. Senator: "When special interests control the financing for campaigns, Congress is very unlikely to act in the national interest."52 "Everybody knows the problems of campaign money today," says President Clinton, "there's too much of it, it takes too much time to raise, and it raises too many questions."53 In 1987, a Senate majority leader appealed to his colleagues:

It is my strong belief that the great majority of senators--of both parties--know that the current system of campaign financing is damaging the Senate, hurts their ability to be the best senator for this nation and for citizens of their respective States that they could be, strains their family life by consuming even more time than their official responsibilities demand, and destroys the democracy we all cherish by eroding public confidence in its integrity. If we do not face a problem of this magnitude and fix it, we have no one but ourselves to blame for the tragic results.54

A mainstream journalist commented on a political scandal, a scandal which led to an open hearing in the U.S. Senate. In this hearing,

The slimy underbelly of American politics slithered into full view, [exposing] how U.S. senators grub for campaign funds from moneyed interests seeking to buy influence.... It was the best lesson the nation has yet had on the costs and the consequences of a campaign-finance system that has corroded government at the highest levels. Even if all five senators are cleared in the end, this trial-like procedure is likely to evoke a public verdict that the system itself is guilty of murder, with integrity the casualty.... [This scandal] is not different in kind from the defense industry interests that lavish money on members of the armed services committees, the union political action groups that funnel cash to the labor committee lawmaker, or the Wall Street interest that fuel the campaigns of incumbents who oversee securities-industry lawmaking. They are all threads in the dark tapestry that now smothers our political system, like a smelly blanket under which lawmakers lie in bed with those who would procure their favors for cash. There is a name for those who solicit such attention, and it is not "senator."55

Six years later, another mainstream journalist wrote:

The government is being bought out from underneath us through legal bribes called campaign contributions. The scandal of politics is not what's illegal--it's what is legal.56

The sober reflections of two political scientists:

[The] political finance system ... undermines the ideals and hampers the performance of American democracy.... Officials ... are ... captives of the present system. Their integrity and judgment are menaced---and too often compromised--by the need to raise money and the means now available for doing it.... The pattern of giving distorts American elections: candidates win access to the electorate only if they can mobilize money from the upper classes, established interest groups, big givers, or ideological zealots. Other alternatives have difficulty getting heard. And the voters' choice is thereby limited. The pattern of giving also threatens the governmental process: the contributions of big givers and interest groups award them access to officeholders, so they can better plead their causes.... The private financing system ... distort[s] both elections and decision making. The equality of citizens on election day is diluted by their inequality in campaign financing. The electorate shares its control of officials with the financial constituency.57

Money, then, throws some light on our collective misbehavior. In particular, it throws some light on our willingness to fight wars all over this world.


42. Public Citizen,, Fall 1983, p. 6.

43. David W. Adamany, "Political Parties in the 1980s," in Michael J. Malbin, ed., Money and Politics in the United States (Washington, DC: American Enterprise, 1984), p. 105.

44. Gary C. Jacobson, "Money in the 1980 and 1982 Congressional Elections," in Michael J. Malbin, ed., Money and Politics in the United States (Washington, DC: American Enterprise, 1984), p. 65.

45. Public Citizen, Spring 1984, p. 6.

46. Lloyd Cutler, quoted in Hedrick Smith, The Power Game (New York: Random house, 1988), p. 253.

47. Hedrick Smith, The Power Game, p. 155.

48. Gordon Adams, The Politics of Defense Contracting (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1982), p. 112.

49. Barry Goldwater and John Stennis, quoted in The Wall Street Journal, July 18, 1986, p. 1.

50. John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (New York: Harper, 1956), Chap. 1.

51. Hubert Humphrey, quoted in David W. Adamany and George E. Agree,Political Money (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1975), p. 8.

52. David L. Boren, quoted in Kubiak, p. 207.

53. Bill Clinton, quoted in Time, November 11, 1996, p. 34.

54. Kubiak, The Gilded Dome, p. 122.

55. James P. Gannon, The Detroit News, November 16, 1990, pp. 1A, 6A.

56. Molly Ivins, Detroit Free Press, October 21, 1996, p. 11A.

57. David W. Adamany and George E. Agree, Political Money (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1975), pp.x, 7, 42.