People hold a variety of opinions about the health of American democracy. We believe that American democracy has been weakened by the massive infusion of private wealth. This exercise allows you to examine historical trend data on the amount of private wealth in politics. It is designed to encourage you to formulate your own opinions about the health of American democracy.
Before we start, we want to make one clarification. We want to carefully distinguish private wealth from money in general. There are really two issues with respect to financing campaigns: (1) how much money is in politics, and (2) where the money comes from. We do not argue that there is too much money in politics. However, we do believe that there is too much private wealth. In other words, private individuals and corporations who make large financial contributions to candidates expect and get something back – they have an unfair advantage in shaping the political process.
To address these issues and to formulate your own views, read the following:
1. Read the article Why We Need Reform.
2. Read several past issues of “Money on My Mind”. Choose two of your own and read all of the following:
Watch for these monthly articles in each Enews. You can use these monthly articles as the basis of your own articles for school newspapers or for posters or teach-ins! Get creative!
3. Go to the Center for Responsive Politics at www.opensecrets.org. Explore the sections on “Politicians & Elections,” (check out the most recent election) “Influence & Lobbying,” (under “industry profiles” you can learn how much commercial banks [or your own “favorite” industry group] have given to campaigns for the last decade) and “News & Analysis” (read at least one blog entry and one report that you are interested in). This website can be your best friend when you are looking for examples of how big money influences policy and issues that affect our everyday lives. You can even plug in the name of your Senator or Representative and find out where she/he gets their money!
4. Another website that offers similar information for each of the 50 states (governor, state representatives’ races etc) is www.followthemoney.org. Check out the information they have on your own state.