In my accompanying essay, I discuss the continuing relevance of nineteenth century political economist Henry George’s discussion of the corrupting influence of money in politics. The decisive event in the history of money in US politics of the intervening years between the publication of the accompanying essay and today is the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which awarded corporations “free speech” rights as if they were actual persons rather than the legal fictions they really are. The major impact most people think of is on presidential elections, as the decision unleashed massive amounts of cash into already huge campaign war chests, with all the pernicious corrupting effects noted by George.
I’d like to call attention to another, less discussed result at least as damaging to our electoral process, namely the practical elimination of local elections because of their now always impending elevation to the national stage. The instant transferability of money means that any local election can be immediately nationalized by a massive infusion of funds from anywhere. One of the earliest proofs of this was the right-wing success in the very state in which this publication is housed, as the normally low-key Iowa judicial retention election following the Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Iowa, establishing marriage equality throughout the state, was nationalized and sensationalized by outside donors and PACs. The result was that the Iowa Supreme Court Justices who participated in that ruling were unprecedentedly removed from office, as decisive dollars poured in from conservative donors across the nation, eliminating Iowa’s electoral autonomy. We now see the practice repeated regularly, and it’s profoundly anti-democracy, since the money of a few wealthy donors can be targeted to travel around the country much more speedily and efficiently than that of small contributors. So much for conservatism’s ostensible championing of local governance, trotted out when convenient but readily abandoned when it interferes with moneyed interests.
Harry Brod is Professor of Sociology and Humanities at the University of Northern Iowa, and serves on the Board of Directors of Humanities Iowa, the state’s NEH Affiliate Council. His most recent book is Superman Is Jewish? How Comic Book Superheroes Came to Serve Truth, Justice and the Jewish-American Way (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2012). His DVD "Asking For It: The Ethics and Erotics of Sexual Consent" is produced and distributed by Media Education Foundation: Here. Harry Brod was last featured in our 292.2 Issue.
Illustrations by; Junyoung Kim. Junyoung Kim is an illustrator, cartoonist, and printmaker based in New York. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a BFA in illustration.Her works are featurd in various magazines including the Visual Opinion, GrowerTalk, and Green Profit magazine. Find more of Junyoung’s work at her Website