Money is choking our democracy to death. Our elections are bought out from under us and our public officials are doing the bidding of mercenaries. So powerful is the hold of wealth on politics that we cannot say America is working for all Americans. The majority may support such broad social goals as affordable medical coverage for all, decent wages for working people, safe working conditions, a secure retirement, and clean air and water, but there is no government "of, by, and for the people" to deliver on those aspirations.
Our system of privately financed campaigns has shut regular people out of any meaningful participation in democracy. Less than one-half of one percent of all Americans made a political contribution of $200 or more to a federal candidate in 2004. When the average cost of winning a seat in the House of Representatives has topped $1 million, we can no longer refer to that chamber as "The People’s House." Congress belongs to the highest bidder.
At the same time that the cost of getting elected is exploding beyond the reach of ordinary people, the business of influencing our elected representatives has become a growth industry. Since President Bush was elected the number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled. That’s 16,342 lobbyists in 2000 and 34,785 last year: 65 lobbyists for every member of Congress. The total spent per month by special interests wining, dining, and seducing federal officials is now nearly $200 million. Per month.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story. With pro-corporate officials running both the executive and legislative branches, lobbying that was once reactive has sallied forth to buy huge chunks of public policy. One example: In 2004 the computer maker Hewlett-Packard sought Republican-backed legislation that would enable it to bring back to the United States, at a dramatically lowered tax rate, as much as $14.5 billion in profits from foreign subsidiaries. The company nearly doubled its budget for contract lobbyists and took on an elite lobbying firm as its Washington arm. Presto! The legislation passed. The company’s director of government affairs was quite candid: "We’re trying to take advantage of the fact that Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the White House."