Dollars and Votes: How Business Campaign Contributions Subvert Democracy

Dollars and Votes: How Business Campaign Contributions Subvert Democracy

Dollars and Votes: How Business Campaign Contributions Subvert Democracy

Dollars and Votes: How Business Campaign Contributions Subvert Democracy


Recent scandals, including questionable fund-raising tactics by the current administration, have brought campaign finance reform into the forefront of the news and the public consciousness. Dollars and Votes goes beyond the partial, often misleading, news stories and official records to explain how our campaign system operates. The authors conducted thorough interviews with corporate "government relations" officials about what they do and why they do it. The results provide some of the most damning evidence imaginable.

What donors, especially business donors, expect for their money is "access" and access means a lot more than a chance to meet and talk. They count on secret behind-the-scenes deals, like a tax provision that applies only to a "corporation incorporated on June 13, 1917, which has its principal place of business in Bartlesville, Oklahoma". After a deal is worked out behind closed doors, one executive explains, "it doesn't much matter how people vote afterwards".

Ordinary contributions give access to Congress; megabuck "soft money" contributions ensure access to the President and top leaders. The striking truth revealed by these authors is that half the soft money comes from fewer than five hundred big donors, and that most contributions come, directly or indirectly, from business. Reform is possible, they argue, by turning away from the temptation of looking at specific scandals and developing a new system that removes the influence of big money campaign contributors.


Imagine the November election is just a few weeks away, and your friend Sally Robeson is seriously considering running for Congress two years from now. This year the incumbent in your district, E. Chauncey DeWitt iii, will (again!) be reelected by a substantial margin, but you and Sally hate Chauncey's positions on the issues and are convinced that with the right campaign he can be beaten. Sally is capable, articulate, well informed, respected in the community, politically and socially connected, charming, good at talking to many kinds of people, and highly telegenic. She has invited you and several other politically active friends to meet with her immediately after the election to determine what she would need to do to become a viable candidate.

The meeting that takes place covers a host of topics: What are the key issues? On which of these are Sally's stands popular, and on which unpopular? What attacks, and from what quarters, will be launched against her? What individuals or groups can she count on for support? How, why, and where is the incumbent vulnerable? But lurking in the background is the question that cannot be ignored: Can Sally (with the help of her friends and backers) raise enough money to be a contender?

This is the money primary, the first, and, in many instances, the most important round of the contest. It eliminates more candidates than any other hurdle. Because it eliminates them so early and so quietly, its impact is often unobserved. To make it through, candidates don't have to come in . . .

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