In reading Dollarocracy by John Nichols and Robert McChesney I was struck by a point that they made that I think should be elaborated on.
Before I get to that I want to note that the book is a must-read. It is a stinging indictment of the American political system focusing on the money spent on political advertising, and the lack of accountability for the purveyors of such advertising due to the decline of hard journalism. As a response to this crisis of democracy, the authors call for (in addition to the common pushes for campaign-finance reform and a constitutional amendment undoing Citizens United, as well as a call for organizing and mobilizing Americans to represent their interests against moneyed interests in Washington) a constitutional amendment guaranteeing all persons the right to vote — with the aim of preventing voter suppression through the force of the federal provision eliminating state laws that disenfranchise citizens — and funding and creating subsidies for real political journalism, so that citizens may make informed decisions at the polls.
The point that I wish to comment on comes early in the book when Nichols and McChesney write, “Something that rarely comes through in the horse-race reporting of campaigns, and the slack-jaw coverage of governing by media outlets that would rather collect checks for commercials than reveal the corruptions of empire [is that] even when the Money Power loses it wins” (page 39).
To Nichols and McChesney, when a billionaire spends a fortune promoting a candidate that ultimately loses their race, the billionaire has not lost, because politics is process, and they have controlled the process through their spending as making that process about spending vast amounts of money. In essence, it is a self-reaffirming move, as by spending so much damn money in politics they make politics about spending so much damn money and assuring their control of the political system as a possessor of money.
But another point follows from the statement “even when Money Power loses it wins”, which is that because politics is money, the element that holds office is not a person, but money, such that billionaires do not lose when they spend their money, and that is because in American politics today money is quite literally in power. “Money, it’s what’s in office”. To the contrary of what the Supreme Court has found in Citizens United, money is not speech, money is a person, and they may be elected to office. And while speech should be protected, we certainly don’t think the powers of politicians should be unlimited or unregulated, and so we shouldn’t think that money, as a politician, should be unregulated in its endeavors.
Now, you might be thinking that this is preposterous argument, and the idea that money is a person is insanity. It is. But the idea that corporations are people is no less insane. And yet that notion is in effect today, with damning consequences for our democracy.