matter, about the welfare problem, civil rights, dissent, the cities, the 1972 Presidential election and change in general. However, these are the people who have to be convinced; then progress in gun control could very likely follow.
Mark Green, James M. Fallows, and David R. Zwick. Who owns Congress?
The influence of big money on government has been a theme of critics ever since the founding of the Republic. Were it not for the sordid tales of bribery and payoffs regularly floating out from behind the Capitol Curtain, scandal columnists would long ago have gone on unemployment compensation. But for all their titillating impact, the crudest forms of bribery are vastly overshadowed as a corrupting influence by a much more sophisticated and widespread practice. Instead of going into the congressman's pockets, the money is instead put in the campaign coffers for the next (or sometimes the previous) election.
Of course, when a big campaign contribution is given in return for an assurance of receiving special treatment, it doesn't matter what the transaction is called. It's still nothing more than good old-fashioned graft in a very thin disguise. But who needs to extract a promise from a politician if spending enough money at election time can put a "reliable" man into office? Or better yet, if spending enough money at primary election and nominating time can ensure that all the surviving candidates by the time the general election rolls around are "reliable." Whether campaign contributions buy an entire election or favored treatment or simply special access to politicians, they are the main reason why the rich men who make them get richer while the average citizen gets what little is left over.
Part of the problem is inflation. Like meat, congressmen have risen in price. As the cost of U.S.-Prime political influence has soared, casual buyers have fled the market and left it to the truly rich or the corporate purchasers. Expenses weren't always so high. In the election campaign of 1846, friends of Abraham Lincoln collected a fund for his first try for Congress. The $200 they scraped together would barely cover one week's phone bills for a modern candidate. But at the end of the campaign, Lincoln returned $199.25 of it. The rest had gone for his one campaign expense, a barrel of cider for local farm hands.
Honest Abe might have spent the rest of his life chopping rails if he'd tried the same thing much later. The turning point for campaign expenses came with the Civil War. As the newly powerful corporate empires began to buy political favors--and as the politicians of the time showed themselves willing to be bought--competition pushed the prices up. The mounting expense, however, did not curb demand, since the companies saw the hard business advantage of friendly politicians. In 1903, a Standard Oil agent (who was himself a member of Congress), screening a "loan request" from a senator, wrote to the company's vice-president John Archbold, "Do you want to make the investment?"
The return on investments like this was a Congress increasingly populated with men like Senator Boies Penrose. Penrose was a Pennsylvanian, a Republican, and a devoted glutton.1 But his deepest allegiance was to the welfare of Corporate America. He explained his philosophy of economy and life to a group of his business beneficiaries: "I believe in a division of labor. You send us to Congress; we pass laws under . . . which you make money; . . . and out of your profits you further contribute to our campaign funds to send us back again to pass more laws to enable you to make more money." A good operating guideline, he once confided to an associate, was to work on "legislation that meant something to men with real money and let them foot the bill" (as when Ar