Payola Democracy: Unions bet $385M and won

Heading into the 2008 elections, the Democratic Party reeled in a whopper of a catch, $385,000,000, from 57 different organized labor unions. In Q&A at Issue Friday on July 17, I misquoted that figure as coming just from the UAW and just to the Obama campaign. My apologies to that day’s attendees for the delay filing this correction; I was searching for the facts.

Several articles, including those noted at the end of this post, provided interesting information on campaign giving (with expectations in return) to the Democratic Party. In fact, according to OpenSecrets.org, the campaign finance monitoring website, that $385 million represents 20% of the total campaign funds raised for all Democrats at the national level. (Totals and percentages derived from this table at OpenSecrets.) One dollar of every five in the party’s overall resources came from union coffers. No wonder Dems have worked so hard on card check and on featherbedding for the autoworkers.

The practice of payola is far from original by any party in political history. Americans must pay attention to the flow of money and votes over time, as the direct relationship will not change while our voting public allows PACs, Lobby groups, NGOs, or interest groups by any name, to act as their representative to our elected officials. A representative democracy is supposed to represent the will of the voters. Yet, how many voting citizens did our trusted representatives ask? Were you asked? I was not. I did not get to vote, nor did I get to voice my opinion.

Not one elected official, their office, their staff, their helpers…NOT ONE asked me how I would vote, or for that matter, asked anyone that I know.

I did not get a phone call, digital message, flyer, comment card, hometown meeting, neighborhood walk and doorbell / hand-shake conversation, brochure, whistle stop, convention, or an airplane banner fly-by at a ball game…. However, I did experience each of these political media formats during the campaign asking for my vote in the election. Therefore, I know the venues exist, and I know my name is on the lists, and I know each of my so-called representatives has the capability use these tools to know the will of the voters in their district. At least, when they care to know.

In fairness to all Americans, this question is critical, “Did you get to vote on the largest government stimulus package in history?” If not, why not? Just who is the democracy that is being represented? It is neither me, nor my neighbors.

Our system allows for this type of ramrod voting, but I would have preferred a public vote. People know best what is best for their needs and will vote in the best interest of their family, friends, employer, and community. People who are empowered to make a difference often do so. People, who know their vote, effort, energy, or money is wasted, often do not bother.

Kudos to any organized group that has figured out how to be represented in this adaptation of a representative democracy. True representation ought not to, should not, cannot, must not, and for heaven’s sake better not be financially motivated – except that… it is. Worse, everyone with access to media worldwide knows this embarrassing truth about America’s current form of democracy.

The distance America has drifted from the original intent of the constitution and truly represented votes is sickening. A call for our elected officials to return to grass roots, hometown-level, look-me-in-the-eye level representation is far past due. What distances did representatives travel by foot or horse-drawn carriage in the early days of American politics to know the will of the people? As far as needed, I suspect. What distance from behind their state office desk or from Washington do they now travel to know even one voter’s opinion that is not in a position to contribute financially? As far as their digital rolodex for the lobbyist’s cell number, I suspect.

Nobel Laureate for his work in Welfare Economics, Amatyra Sen, writes the following in a Wall Street Journal commentary, “Democracy Isn’t ‘Western’”: “In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela describes how influenced he was, as a boy, by seeing the democratic nature of the proceedings of the meetings that were held in his home town: ‘Everyone who wanted to speak did so. It was democracy in its purest form. There may have been a hierarchy of importance among the speakers, but everyone was heard, chief and subject, warrior and medicine man, shopkeeper and farmer, landowner and laborer.’”

How far has America drifted away from democracy? Too far. Embarrassingly far.

Tamara Hannaway, Associate Professor of Economics at Colorado Christian University and Ph.D Student at CU Denver’s School of Public Affairs. Her research areas are governance, corruption, and inequality, and the effects of Soviet influence on human development.

REFERENCES:

Big Labor has one big hope (and $385 million to sell it)
AFL-CIO, SEIU go all out to pass organizing law ending secret ballots
By Neil Roland September 1, 2008 ET
http://www.financialweek.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080901/REG/309019974/0/FREE
“Given the stakes, it’s hardly surprising that organized labor is splashing massive amounts of cash on the election. The AFL-CIO and its 56 member unions plan to spend a whopping $300 million to support Democrats in the presidential and congressional campaigns this fall and produce about 250,000 volunteers. The breakaway Service Employees International Union plans to pitch in another $85 million.”

Big Three Bailout? Not So Fast
Declan McCullagh Says A Better Solution Is To Let The Automakers Declare Bankruptcy
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/11/12/politics/otherpeoplesmoney/main4595068.shtml

“One explanation for Washington’s haste is that while bankruptcy would alter union contracts, a bailout probably won’t. The labor movement spent, according to Financial Week…a whopping $385 million to elect Obama and other Democrats last week. Nobody writes such large checks without expecting something: now it’s payback time.”

Development as Freedom, an important book by Sen
“Amartya Sen is Lamont University Professor, and Professor of Economics and Philosophy, at Harvard University and was until recently the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. He has served as President of the Econometric Society, the Indian Economic Association, the American Economic Association and the International Economic Association.”
URL for Sen’s Harvard site is: http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/sen

Stats at a Glancehttp://www.opensecrets.org/index.php

“OpenSecrets.org is your nonpartisan guide to money’s influence on U.S. elections and public policy. Whether you’re a voter, journalist, activist, student or interested citizen, use our free site to shine light on your government. Count cash and make change.”

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