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Is the Will of the People Dying in US Elections?


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The 2024 United States presidential elections have stirred intense debates about the role of money, media, and the democratic process. President Joe Biden’s poor performance in the June 27 debate with former President Donald Trump sparked a significant reaction from Democratic donors, revealing the influence of wealth on political candidacy and electoral outcomes.

The Influence of Wealthy Donors

Donor Reactions to Biden’s Debate Performance

Following President Biden’s lackluster debate performance, prominent Democratic donors expressed serious concerns about his viability as a candidate. High-profile donors, including Abigail Disney and Moriah Fund president Gideon Stein, threatened to withhold substantial financial contributions unless Biden was replaced. Disney articulated the fear that Biden’s continued candidacy would ensure a Democratic defeat, while Stein’s family paused over $3 million in planned donations.

The Power of Money in Politics

The response from these donors underscores a critical issue in US politics: the disproportionate influence of wealthy individuals on political outcomes. This influence is not a new phenomenon but has been magnified by recent events. For instance, significant contributions to Biden’s joint fundraising committee, the Biden Victory Fund, from tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists highlight how financial power can shape electoral strategies and decisions.

Dark Money and Its Implications

The term “dark money” refers to political spending where the source of funds is not disclosed. The 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission enabled unlimited spending by corporations and special interest groups, leading to an influx of dark money into US elections. Super PACs (Political Action Committees) have since become instrumental in election campaigns, with almost $3 billion spent on federal elections in their first decade alone.

OpenSecrets reported an unprecedented surge in dark money for the 2023-24 election cycle, potentially surpassing the $660 million in contributions from unknown sources during the 2020 elections. This trend raises concerns about the transparency and accountability of electoral financing, as voters remain unaware of who is trying to influence their choices and why.

Democratic Values Under Siege

Erosion of Public Trust

The heavy reliance on large donations and dark money undermines the fundamental principles of democracy, where the government should be of, by, and for the people. Instead, the current system appears to favor the interests of the wealthy elite, eroding public trust in democratic institutions. The notion that “big money controls the US government” is increasingly accepted, with the influence of money in politics becoming normalized.

Impact on Policy and Governance

The impact of this financial influence extends beyond elections to policy and governance. Politicians reliant on wealthy donors may prioritize the interests of these benefactors over the broader public good. This dynamic is evident in areas such as healthcare, education, and housing, where substantial funds that could address systemic issues are instead diverted to maintaining political power and influence.

Supreme Court and Judicial Decisions

The role of dark money in shaping the judiciary is particularly concerning. The conservative tilt of the current Supreme Court, facilitated by substantial dark money contributions, has resulted in decisions that dismantle basic rights and freedoms. Leonard Leo, a prominent figure in this dark money network, played a key role in appointing three conservative justices, significantly influencing the court’s direction.

The Will of the People vs. The Power of Money

Voter Disillusionment

The disparity between the will of the people and the power of money contributes to voter disillusionment and apathy. When citizens perceive that their voices are overshadowed by wealthy donors, their motivation to participate in the democratic process wanes. This disillusionment is reflected in declining voter turnout and engagement, further weakening the democratic fabric of the nation.

Grassroots Movements and Campaign Finance Reform

Despite these challenges, grassroots movements and advocates for campaign finance reform continue to fight for a more equitable and transparent electoral system. Efforts to limit the influence of dark money, increase transparency in political donations, and promote public financing of campaigns are essential steps toward restoring democratic values. Organizations like OpenSecrets and the Brennan Center for Justice play a crucial role in highlighting these issues and advocating for meaningful change.

The Path Forward

Addressing the corrosive impact of big money on US elections requires comprehensive reforms and a recommitment to democratic principles. Key measures include:

  • Strengthening Campaign Finance Laws: Implementing stricter regulations on campaign contributions and expenditures, with an emphasis on transparency and accountability.
  • Enhancing Voter Education: Providing citizens with clear and accessible information about the sources of political funding and their implications for policy and governance.
  • Promoting Public Financing: Encouraging public financing of campaigns to reduce candidates’ reliance on wealthy donors and level the playing field for all candidates.
  • Supporting Grassroots Efforts: Amplifying the voices of grassroots movements and advocacy groups working to reform the electoral system and restore public trust in democracy.

Influence of money

The 2024 US presidential elections serve as a stark reminder of the ongoing struggle between the will of the people and the influence of money in politics. The reactions of wealthy donors to President Biden’s debate performance highlight the disproportionate power of financial elites in shaping political outcomes. This dynamic undermines democratic values, erodes public trust, and distorts policy priorities.

To safeguard the integrity of the democratic process, it is imperative to address the pervasive influence of big money and dark money in elections. By enacting meaningful reforms, enhancing transparency, and supporting grassroots efforts, the United States can move closer to realizing the ideal of a government truly of, by, and for the people.

Wasim Qadri
Wasim Qadri
Islamabad based Senior Journalist, TV Show Host, Media Trainer, can be follow on twitter @jaranwaliya

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