Wednesday, May 4, 2016

American democracy faces "crisis" with money's corrupt influence in politics

American democracy is facing a "crisis" due to the increased influence of money in politics while common citizens are left out in the process, a US political activist who helped organize recent massive political protests, told Xinhua in a recent interview.


"It was about a crisis for American Democracy. People are feeling more left out in the process, that their voice doesn't count, that their vote is not being counted, that our government is being intentionally obstructed and broken," said Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen's Democracy Is For People Campaign.

Public Citizen is a Washington-based public interest group that co-sponsored the week-long Democracy Spring protests in 30 cities across the US in mid-April, including the one held in front of the Capitol Hill.

"So it was about voting rights, and big money and politics, corruption, and also about having courts that work," Freechild said, referring to the aim of the protests held as the 2016 US presidential campaign kicks into high gear and money in politics becomes a heated topic.

Freechild was one of about 1,000 protesters from across the nation who were detained by police for staging the protests on the steps of the Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.. She was still wearing a red paper armband on her right wrist, which police forced those who were detained to wear.

"Our entire system is dependent on big money donors. It's not impossible to run without big money as Bernie Sanders is showing, but it's very difficult to win," Freechild said.

She was talking about the Vermont senator who is mounting an impressive challenge to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and wife of former US President Bill Clinton. Rather than raising fund from big donors, Senator Sanders has been relying on small donations, usually in form of 27 US dollars, from grassroots supporters.

In this year's presidential race, American voters' anger about money in politics has greatly helped outsiders, such as Sanders and Republican front-runner Donald Trump, a billionaire who is financing his campaign largely with own money.

Still, Sanders' chance of defeating Clinton to win the Democratic Party's nomination is slim.

Freechild explained that nine out of 10 competitors who outspend their competitors win their elections, adding that this leads to political corruption as rich people and corporate interests can buy influence from politicians.

"So it may not be you intend to be corrupted, but if you have to spend all your time fundraising and talking to the people who make up the 1 percent, and corporate interests, you're going to be more sympathetic to them because that's who you see all day long," Freechild said.

Indeed, statistics showed that a small pool of rich donors dominates the campaign funding in the 2016 presidential race, highlighting the unprecedented concentration of political donors in the modern era, according to a New York Times report.

"You see this was reflected on the (Capitol) Hill," Freechild said. "Congressmen get big checks from big people, and they do not reflect the views of most Americans of either party."

She blamed this on a controversial decision made by the Supreme Court in 2010 to allow unlimited political spending by independent nonprofit corporations to support a certain candidate. It virtually opened the floodgate to donations from big donors to candidates in the form of donating to the super PACs, or nonprofit political action committees.

Freechild's view about the corrupt influence of money in US politics was consistent with the polls on US politicians, especially the Congress, whose approval ratings have been lingering at historical lows in the past years.

A March 11 Gallup survey found that the approval ratings of US Congress were at only 13 percent, just four points above the record low in November 2013.

Meanwhile, the political gridlock in Washington has worsened since the Republican Party controlled both chambers of Congress in 2012 while President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won re-election.

As both the Republican and Democratic parties put their own interests above those of the public, bipartisan consensus is almost nonexistent.

The two parties have opposed each other only for the sake of opposing on nearly all important issues, such as reinvigorating the economy, reducing spiraling debt, and reforming immigration policy. A political tug of war between the two parties in 2013 led to a temporary shutdown of the US federal government.

Understandably, 65 percent of likely US voters believe the country is heading in the wrong direction, compared to only 29 percent who think it is heading in the right direction, according to an April 24-28 Rasmussen Reports poll.
 [Xinhua - globaltimes.cn]
4/5/16

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