Two significant events in American history move us closer and closer to having our elections unduly influenced by money and wealth. First, under Ronald Reagan, we abolished the fairness doctrine. The fairness doctrine required that a television or radio outlet holding a federal permit to broadcast was required to balance political rhetoric by the various sides.
In other words, if a Republican message was allowed to be published by the station, a Democratic message was required to follow. The fairness concept was repealed by Congress under the leadership of Ronald Reagan in a Republican Congress. Media owners argued they had invested and created the facilities for broadcast, therefore, they should enjoy the right of free speech to broadcast what they chose when they chose without regard to an equal opportunity or fairness approach in matters politically.
Apparently, Congress and the media owners have forgotten that while the equipment used to broadcast is privately owned, the airways belong to the people of the United States. The owners of Fox News and other ‘right-wingers’ often complain about government interference and heavy-handed regulations from the United States government. They would be the first to complain were communications, regulations, and licenses for broadcast facilities left to free enterprise. Can you imagine the chaos if anyone were free to broadcast anytime and anywhere they chose and the one with the most powerful broadcast station would be the one to dominate the airways.
Television has become the principle source of news for the majority of Americans. It has become the focal point of the family room. It has become an essential outlet for political discourse in the United States. It seems dangerous to me to allow Rupert Murdock who has given millions to the Republican Party to have a non-stop news station which appears bent on carrying the Republican message 24 hours a day. And remember, it’s on the public airways!
Anytime a person is considering whether or not to enter a race for political office in a serious manner, among the first questions to be answered is whether or not that person has the ability to raise the required amount of money to be a credible candidate. Anyone who believes a major race can be won without money is living in a make-believe world. Although, on occasion, a candidate will spark such a reaction from voters he can overcome outspending by his opponent through hard work by individual citizens in a grass-root campaign.
Those instances are few and far between, and are becoming more rare in today’s world. On the infrequent occasions when one can overcome large sums of money being spent against one in a race, it is often tied to the adverse reaction of the public upon learning that some special interest is trying to buy the election. Unfortunately, with recent events put in place by our Supreme Court, huge sums of corporate money can be spent in an election. What’s worse, the general public is not privy to the source of the money or motivation for giving it.
The genesis of the restriction against corporate giving was two-fold. First of all corporate directors do not own the money; and yet they can choose to give away money invested by shareholders, without the consent of those shareholders. The choice is only that of the directors of the corporation. In the 19th century railroads, when being opposed by local politicians, would gather huge sums of money, sponsor a candidate and elect their own official and then do as they please.
The general public, thinking this was too much power in the hands of corporate America, reacted by passing laws against corporate money being invested in political races. That has stood as a basic principle of politics until the recent ruling of the Roberts Supreme Court. Our current Supreme Court decided corporations were being deprived of free speech by not having the ability to drown anyone who opposed their special-interest agendas with corporate money.
Imagine what would happen if all of the local gas and oil interests decided they were angry at our county judge, a particular county commissioner or city councilman and gathered together 4-5 million dollars to spend in a local race. What elected official in Southeast Texas do you know who would be popular enough to withstand such an onslaught?
What if local TV stations could choose to allow only one candidate in a race to buy television time? What if the same entity owned all of the television stations?
A perfect recent example of the power of money in influencing voter opinion is that of the health care reform. It is not because of anything other than politics that the health care reform has been dubbed “Obamacare.” The current unpopularity of health care reform is not because of careful research done by grass roots citizens, but by hype from the lobbyists paid approximately a million dollars a day to oppose medical care on behalf of the medical industry’s special interests. It is mind boggling to me that so many American citizens do not see the clear and present danger of the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor in this country and the blatant catering to wealth in making political decisions.
I’ve often heard it is foolish for one to get into an argument with the newspaper because the newspaper buys paper by the ream and ink by the barrel. Just imagine for a moment how successful one might be arguing with corporate power with unlimited money and control of all media outlets they care to buy.