Who Owns Congress?

Image credit: Ellen Wuibaux / Wikimedia Commons

One person one vote, that’s the myth of democracy in the U.S. And if we get to vote, which gets more difficult each election, what does our vote really mean? The reality is most obvious when we look at presidential races, when we get to choose between two candidates, neither of whom represent our interests. It’s like choosing between chopping off a finger or a toe. And who chooses the candidates? It takes a lot of money to get in the race, which is especially true this year. Estimates show that spending on this election cycle has doubled since the last, costing somewhere near $14 billion. As of the end of October, Trump had raised $863,552,249, and Biden $1,378,937,038. Combined this is more than two billion dollars!

Getting elected to office is overwhelmingly determined by money. Nine out of ten congressional races are won by the highest campaign spender. Members of Congress begin fundraising the day they are elected, because on average it takes $1.4 million to run a successful House campaign, with Senate races costing six times that amount. The majority of that money is obtained by large donors and Super PACs (Political Action Committees), which are set up to funnel money from rich people, big corporations, and interest groups into campaigns. These large donors ensure that their money is well-spent when it comes time for Congress to make decisions, pulling their financial support if their interests aren’t represented.  

Furthermore, the amount needed to win a race keeps increasing, especially in hotly contested elections. For example, in a recent senate race, Democrat Jaimie Harrison raised $107,568,737, while his competitor, Republican Lindsey Graham, raised $72,690,495. That’s a total of $180,259,232, for just one congressional race! While that was the most expensive race, the top ten most expensive races still all raised over $59 million. With that amount of money coming in, we must ask: whose interests do these politicians represent? 

There are many ways big donors can channel money into Congress – some are more aboveground, and others are more veiled. One look at the list of top contributing interest groups shows that every major industry has its hand in the pot, from real estate, health professionals, the insurance industry, business services, big pharma, the finance sector, oil and gas, and commercial banks. In less obvious ways big industries do things like funnel funds through fiscal sponsors, using non-profits to create a buffer between the donors and the recipients. But we don’t need to track every specific donation, as the sheer volume of money going into these elections shows that regular people aren’t the ones these politicians are going to remain beholden to. 

Plus, Congress members themselves are often a part of the wealthy elite. In fact the majority of Congress people in office today are millionnaires. Democrat Mark Warner is the wealthiest with an estimated $214,092,575to his name. The top ten wealthiest members of Congress as of 2018 were all worth more than $78 million. And while some might enter office with a lower income, they often come out wealthier and better connected to the richest echelons of society. 

All of this shows us how our government isn’t an impartial democracy, it’s a democracy of the rich. It’s really one dollar one vote. With three people holding as much wealth as the bottom half of the U.S. population (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett), it’s clear who has enough wealth to really pull the strings. You may remember that Mike Bloomberg had a slip of the tongue in the primary debates when he said he had “bought” many members of Congress in the past. Well maybe it wasn’t a slip of the tongue after all, but rather an admission of the truth. Once when Bill Gates was asked if he would run for office, his reply was essentially that he didn’t need to – his financial contributions allow him to accomplish what he wants in the government without having to run. It’s the billionaires, Bloombergs, Bill Gates, and others like them that really call the shots. It makes perfect sense, the same people who own everything else – every major industry, the media, and finance – also own the government. In every aspect, this government is shaped by and functions to serve the interests of the rich.

The government is certainly not what we were taught it was. It isn’t some impartial regulator, it’s an instrument. It’s the instrument of the ruling class and it exists to keep the system which serves them functioning alive. We will never rival their wealth, and we will never be able to use their government to serve our interests. So, we shouldn’t rely on their tools, we should rely on our own. While the wealthy may own everything, working people are the ones who make it all run. That is where our power lies, in the workplaces and in the streets, not in Congress.