The Ill Effects of Big Money on Politics and Why It Shouldn't Influence Elections

Running for office costs, there’s no doubt about that. But has the cost become too high? Sure candidates have to use money to reach voters with their message. Common methods to reach voters include advertising on radio, television, mailing postcards to your home, paying staff to door knock, making phone calls, and maintaining a campaign office. The more money a candidate has to influence a voter, conventionally, the better the outcome for that candidate.

So it’s no wonder that candidates will try to raise as much as possible. How do you pay for those ads, flyers, mailers, office support?  Where does that money come from…you? Let’s take a closer look.

Candidates will often ask their supporters to contribute. In Hartford, where many of us are living day to day, the size of the donation will match the level of money we have to spare. In reality that donation will be small given the income levels of many Hartford residents. I mean if you are deciding between your phone bill, light bill, rent or making a contribution to a political candidate, who’s getting your dollars?

That’s understandable. So here’s the problem: Candidates have turned to corporations, special interests, lobbyists, developers and wealthy individuals to fund the bulk of their campaigns. When people donate a lot of money for elections, the people who donated get special attention instead of everyone else. This means that your voice won't be as important. When elections are funded by big-money donations, the focus shifts from the people to the donors. You are not just losing the power of your vote. You are losing the value of your tax dollars and your voice.

Though elected officials must listen to many different voices and balance competing interests, at the end of the day our representatives are supposed to make decisions that benefit the community they represent. However, candidates who spend more time and resources gathering funds from their wealthy donors or people outside of Hartford rather than meeting with and listening to the concerns of actual Hartford residents – disenfranchise us. The ordinary people, the everyday people, who do not have access to this big money are left out and cannot participate democratically.

This lack of participation creates a vicious cycle. The wealthy have more money, which leads to more donations that they can use to influence the political system, which ultimately gives them even more power. This corrupt cycle continues until the system is rigged, and only a few hold power … while the others pay the price.

Is apathy justified?

It’s only been in our recent elections in Hartford where we have seen an influx of big money in politics, leaving many of us to feel like our elected officials are not listening to us. As a result, we become less involved in politics – or stop paying attention completely. We may know that our mayoral or council candidates are not truly representing our interests, but we often elect them anyway because we can’t find anyone better. Or maybe the “less competitive” candidate is not even seen or heard.

Year after year of things not getting better in our city takes its toll. So many of us begin to tune out because this game of how politics works is simply too depressing, and we no longer feel that our involvement matters. That is perhaps the true cost of big money in politics; it makes us stop believing that we can truly make a difference.

But continued vigilance is required for us not to be swayed or impressed by large political contributions or donations from outside the city of Hartford. In fact, large donors from outside the city should serve as an alarm. Candidates should no longer be able to win elections on the back of donations from the wealthy or outside interests alone. The focus should be on the issues, policies, and people of Hartford, not the size of a candidate's money pot.

The campaign finance system, where money talks and drowns out proven needs and the voices of the people, is a national phenomenon. We see it every day in the pointless gridlock in Congress. It doesn’t have to be that way in our city. Money can buy many things; thoughtful and effective leadership is not one of them.