U.S. democracy: The power of money

Writer Larry Beinhart, one of the panelists in this Al Jazeera English program on U.S. campaign financing, said compared American democracy to Iranian democracy.  In Iran, all political candidates have to get clearance from the Council of Guardians who certify that they conform to the tenets of Shiite Islam.  Within those limits, there are contested elections based on full and vigorous debate.  In the United States, as Beinhart said, candidates have to get clearance from financial guardians, the big contributors who pay for election campaigns, and, within the limits of acceptability to those big contributors, there are contested elections based on full and vigorous debate.

James Bopp, lawyer for the winning side in the Citizens United case, and Steven Hoersting, co-founder of the Center for Competitive Politics, who is regarded as a father of the Super-PAC system, argued that unlimited financial contributions allow for more voices to be heard in American politics, and offset the power of supposedly liberal reporters and broadcasters.  Hoersting argued further that middle-class people are not at a disadvantage, because it allows them to pool their financial resources and speak independently.

This is not how things work in practice, though.  We Americans have a wide range of choices on abortion rights, affirmative action,  church-and-state separation, gay marriage, smokers’ rights and many other issues that do not affect the financial interests of the upper 1/10th of 1 percent of income earners.  But candidates who advocate breaking up the big Wall Street banks, which is what public opinion polls say the majority of the American people want, are relegated to the fringes.

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