Thursday, April 17, 2014

Campaign contributions, the unemployed, and voting

The affluent use their campaign contributions to buy political influence in two ways legally. First, campaign contributions may buy access to a politician. The politician may invite large donors to special events at which the donor will have an opportunity to express his/her views to the politician. Individuals may also initiate a request to meet personally or through a paid lobbyist with a politician, a request much more likely to receive a favorable response if the requester is a major campaign contributor.

Second, large donors may seek out candidates to support based upon the candidate's position on issues of interest to the donor. Tory Newmyer, in his lengthy article, "Why Mitch McConnell Really Matters" (Fortune, April 7, 2014, pp. 92-100) describes this approach as "investing" in an election (p. 98). Only if a donor expects, or at least hope, to influence an election's outcome in a way that will lead to greater profits can one accurately describe a political contribution as an "investment."

As a Christian ethicist, I think that reducing political contributions and involvement to questions of personal interest is morally deficient. Politics should be about communal rather than personal well-being. This, at a minimum, is one clear message in Jesus' last meal with the disciples and his death on the cross.

Self-abnegation is not necessary. Every person is worthy of self-respect and the community should value all of its members equally.

However, a political system that allows excessively large political contributions (e.g., $4 million spread across numerous candidates and organizations) is a system that values the wealthy more than it values persons of average or below-average wealth.

For example, Jana Kasperkevic ("The ghosts of America's long-term unemployed," The Guardian, March 27, 2014) identifies an often unseen group of people, most of whom have significant economic problems. These are the 3.8 million people out of work for more than six months. Research by the Brookings Institute indicates that about a third will permanently leave the workforce; another third, after more than fifteen months of unemployment, are still looking for work; and only 10% have returned to full-time employment. Long-term unemployment will potentially create an underclass, impose significant economic costs on the larger society, and greatly diminish the self-esteem and happiness of the unemployed. What political access or influence do the long-term unemployed have? What assurance do we have that our political system will work for their benefit?

The North Carolina 2014 election cycle begins with primary voting on May 6. The 2014 primaries will occur on other dates in various states. The primaries are a prelude to the general election on November 4, 2014.

Voter turnout in years in which there is not a presidential election (i.e., years such as 2014) is generally very low. This presents a good opportunity to influence the election's outcome. Perpetuating gridlock in Washington may be strongly preferable to a US Senate and House both controlled by a single party, with incumbents in whom the wealthy have large and disproportionate "investments." Your vote is a low-cost opportunity (only your time and travel to your polling place) to help the wealthy earn a negative return on their "investments."

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