2012-04-11 / Editorials

Jim Hite

WINNER TAKE ALL POLITICS

As the primary season winds down and both sides, as well as several vocal splinter groups gear up for the November elections, it might be worth a bit of time to take a look at what could be called “Winner-Take-All Politics.”

You may have heard the report on the vast sums of money needed to run for political office on the national scene. The cost of running for a House seat in Congress is reportedly $1-2 million and it’s several million more for the Senate. According to a report on NPR, the second largest time consumer for lawmakers is fund-raising. A room within easy access is available with phone banks in constant use, where a Senator or Representative drops in almost daily to make personal appeals to large donors.

Money makes THE difference.

A book released two months before the 2010 elections with the above title noted that two years after the collapse of the financial markets the fight was not whether to extend tax cuts to the richest among us, but how fast those cuts could be renewed.

Citing statistics from 1979 to 2006, authors Jacob Hacket and Paul Pierson wrote that the wealthiest 1 percent’s post-tax income rose 256 percent, the poorest’s rose 11 percent, and middle class’s rose 21 percent, mostly because two adults worked outside the home.

Surveying our country’s economic history, the authors claim a back-and-forth battle between the affluent and not-so-affluent, with the affluent victorious for the last 35 years.

They claim it was a well planned victory. The number of corporations with public affairs offices in DC grew from 100 to over 500 between 1968 and 1978. In 1971, 175 firms had registered lobbyists. In 1982, the number grew to nearly 2,500. Corporate political action committees (PACs) went from under 300 in 1976 to over 1,200 in 1980.

Forward to the meltdown of 2007-2008: In 2009, Congress and a new administration began work on financial reform and were met by banks, insurance companies, realtors, and investment firms hiring some 940 lobbyists (among them over 70 former members of Congress). Those corporations spent $3.5 billion fighting against any toughening in government regulation. Americans for Financial Reform countered with a budget of $2 million.

And since that time, especially due to the Supreme Court ruling on Americans United, we now have Super PACs spending billions on favored candidates and causes.

Whether this has been for good or evil is in the eye of the beholder. The subtitle of the Hacket/Pierson book is: How Washington Made the Rich Richer – and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class. Their view of the past 35 years is not favorable.

We may agree or disagree with the authors’ views. We may agree or disagree with the concept of “winner-take-all politics.”

But we definitely are living with the results.

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