By Josh Sager
Modern American politics has become flooded with money, most of which supporting politicians who are willing to sell out to moneyed interests; this money is used to fund gigantic and widespread ad campaigns that are targeted at changing public opinion. As progressive policies are less popular among the wealthy and corporate interests, much of this money has been funneled to groups which directly compete with progressives. Despite the weighted scales of money between the conservatives and the progressives, there are large-money donors who are willing to fund progressives.
Unfortunately, the fact that virtually every politician has taken money from corporate interests means that any politician not to do so is at a comparative disadvantage. If a politician is to fund their campaign through only small donors, they will be overwhelmed by the large money donors to support their opposition. In the modern political climate, refusing to take money from large donors is simply an unfeasible political campaign strategy. While it may feel good for an honest politician to refuse potentially corrupting money, it is an empty victory if this refusal allows the corrupt politician to win. This unfortunate situation has forced progressives to ask themselves the question: “Is it worth standing on principle during a campaign and not taking big-money, if you know that such acts will ensure that the corrupt opposition wins election?”
In order to succeed politically, progressives must raise significant amounts of money with which to fund campaigns. Progressives should not unilaterally disarm in terms of fundraising, and should take large money donations from rich individuals and entities. A campaign based upon small money donations is good in theory, but it will rarely win against a campaign which has the backing of a single donor who is willing to spend millions (ex. Sheldon Adelson); the big-money campaign will simply inundate the public with ads and totally eclipse the small-money campaign.
Despite the fact that many progressives are extremely hesitant (and rightly so) to take big-money donations, it has become necessary for survival. Progressives must take money from large donors, or they will simply be outgunned by corporatist Democrats and Republicans. It may be impalitable, but this concession is the only way that progressive will be able to compete at the level of other political groups.
While progressives should never unilaterally disarm politically, there should be limits on progressive political conduct that prevent progressives from becoming too much like conservatives. Progressives should utilize large-donor money but they should never let donor money have any control over policy or politics—this distinction is what separates legitimate political patronage from legalized bribery. With every donation, progressives should make it clear to the donor that the act of giving money to a campaign will do nothing to affect policy positions by the politician. In all likelihood, this clarification will limit corporate donation (corporations only spend money when there is advantage to them), but it will allow progressives to take large-money donations without compromising their ethics or values.
Once in power, progressives should immediately begin a push to remove money from politics through a constitutional amendment. At the very first opportunity, progressives should remove money from politics and institute a campaign system which is independent of donors (strict donation limits or publically financed elections). For as long as our election system is dependent upon money, progressives must live with the unpleasant necessity of taking large-money donations; once they succeed in the current system, progressives should reject the lure of money and begin changing the political system to be one where big money patronage is illegal.