In the wake of yet another mass shooting, 17 children are dead and America is furious.
Sixty-six percent of Americans support stricter gun laws and 67 percent support an assault weapon ban. Yet, despite this tragedy and this widespread call for change, Republican majority Legislatures at state and federal levels refuse to make the common sense reforms Americans demand for the safety of our nation.
Why do our elected officials continue to ignore reality and public opinion? Why do Republican politicians sit there after every single one of these massacres and do absolutely nothing to prevent the next shooting?
The answer is simple. Across this country, gun manufacturers and other corporations who use dark money conduits to funnel undisclosed expenditures into our elections bankroll conservative politicians. Instead of taking action, Republicans in this country take money and assistance from corporations in a clear exchange for votes, messaging and obedience. Our campaign finance system has created a government where elected officials are more accountable to donors than to citizens and most times, we don’t even have the right to know who those benefactors are.
The rise of dark money in politics accelerated through two Supreme Court rulings: Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC in 2007 and Citizens United in 2010. These decisions allowed corporations and nonprofits to spend money on issue ads during elections and then to spend money on ads that expressly called for the election or defeat of candidates. This led to the creation of nonprofit 501c(4) and 501c(6) organizations including Crossroads GPS, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and, yes, the NRA-ILA. Together, groups like these have accounted for around $1.4 billion in 2016 political spending, and that total rises each year.
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The reason dark money plays such a big role in our political system is also the reason why it is a huge problem for the future of our government — nondisclosure. These nonprofits often have zero obligation to publicize their donor lists. That means gun manufacturers, oil companies, private prison developers and other groups that have a vested interest in halting policy progress without anybody knowing can fund our politicians’ electoral efforts.
Here in Wisconsin, these dark money groups plague our political world. ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is an organization with dozens of Republican members who push corporate-friendly policies and literally use ALEC-written legislation on behalf of donors such as WellPoint (a healthcare insurer) and Roche Diagnostics (a diagnostics division of a pharmaceutical company).
Another notorious organization in Wisconsin politics is the Wisconsin Club for Growth. During Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election, leaked corporate donations from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, hedge fund manager Paul Singer, retail billionaire John Menard, President Donald Trump and more, poured into the effort via the nonprofit organization. In Wisconsin gubernatorial elections, individual donations are capped at $20,000, but through dark money, corporate donations flowed into the campaign in the millions.
This tactic continues today as outside, dark money groups have spent more than $3,100,000 against Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, through this January — more than against every other Democratic incumbent combined.
At the end of the day, our campaign finance system should reflect the democracy it seeks to create. Self-serving corporate donors should not drown out the voices of the people, but that’s simply not the reality in our nation. In 2012, dark money spending eclipsed $300,000,000 and in 2016, first-year election cycle spending was 10 times more than in 2012.
These are staggering amounts of political spending and glaring indicators of why our country cannot deliver on the demands of the people. Using eight times as much dark money as Democrats, Republicans are reliant on the support of groups that seek to halt progress in the name of monetary gain.
As a result of this quid pro quo system, we simply won’t see positive action in areas that harm Republican mega-donors. We won’t see sentencing reform that affects private prisons. We won’t see environmental regulations that affect fossil fuel producers. We won’t see financial safeguards that affect hedge fund managers. And we will almost certainly not see sensible gun control that affects gun manufacturers.
As Democrats and as Americans, we will fight for positive change in our government. But until politicians are accountable to their constituents and not to their donors, until we have a more representative and fair campaign finance system to get rid of these loopholes, progress will continue to be a struggle within this country.
David Pelikan ([email protected]) is a freshman studying political science and economics. He is the press secretary for UW College Democrats.