When companies buy elections, people lose

When a giant corporation like Amazon buys a competing company, we assume and accept the purpose is to gain market share and ultimately win more profit. But if there is a loser in that transaction, it’s the other company or at least the competing idea. There is less competition in the marketplace, which used to be considered bad for innovation and markets. If Amazon can also spend a ton of money to sway an election, who loses in that case? 

Leading up to the November 5th election for the Seattle City Council, we’ve seen over a million dollars poured into PACs from Amazon and others, aimed at putting more business-friendly candidates on the council. Yet no matter how much evidence we collect that money has a huge impact on election outcomes, we sit by and let companies skew our elections.

In the past three years of national politics, there has been an extreme obsession with the threat of foreign entities ‘tampering with’ or otherwise influencing elections. Yet there is little mention of the outsized impact that big donors have on the same elections. In our system of “limited” political contributions but unlimited spending, we reject the more common first-world concept of prioritizing integrity, and we enable increased corruption by equating money with speech. 

We pretend that everyone has the same limited capacity to contribute, while those with resources use PACs to work around the limits.

This is playing out in front of us in Seattle, where companies, executives, and labor groups are spending record amounts of cash on the election. Regardless of what candidates we ultimately chose, this is a ridiculous waste of resources in a city plagued by homelessness. But the importance of money to the campaign leads to many candidates focusing on the highest payers, and that is where the true problem lies.

In general, a very small number of people give political donations to candidates or PACs. But that tiny group has a massive impact on the total amount of campaign spending, making it strategically important to have their support. It’s much quicker to call one person for $2000, compared to calling 100 people for $20. A candidate, therefore, invests more time on the bigger spenders and naturally is more exposed to their perspectives and demands. 

So even when your favorite candidate wins, they don’t ultimately accomplish what you wanted. This could be partially why so many people don’t even vote. Yes, politics are complicated and stress-inducing, but they matter to the people who want control in their environment. Politicians constantly let down the people, then the people give up on the politicians. It is a vicious cycle that we should at least try to end.

In Seattle, the wealthy are trying to stop the majority from putting people first and ending that cycle. 

We need campaign finance reform at the highest level – an amendment to the Constitution. It should be a right of every citizen for their voice to be heard in this most basic sense, and we shouldn’t be shut out from the discourse if we’re not rich. We’ve seen examples of candidates who can survive races on individual contributions alone, but we also see the obvious fixation on donations every time. We can’t rely on Congress to pass a law; they are most beholden to that .07% of the population that can donate $2700+.

The only way to get this done is via Article V of the Constitution, which allows the states to call a convention for proposing a single-issue amendment. Most of our current amendments included some campaign for a convention, which pressured Congress into action. The bar to entry is high: it takes 34 states to call for the same issue convention. But with over 50% of voters saying that political corruption is a crisis, what is more important? Trust in our elected officials cannot be an optional part of democracy. Waiting for Congress to do something about our unfair system has not worked. This political option is thoroughly researched and is the only way to create a lasting solution. It starts with us deciding that we really want the democracy we claim, and it ends when elections are a public benefit instead of marketing arms races.