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Study Cites Evidence of Money Shaping U.S. Elections

If you thought money plays a role in politics, a new study says you're correct. (Veronica Carter)
If you thought money plays a role in politics, a new study says you're correct. (Veronica Carter)
August 29, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Public outrage over the influence of money in politics continues to grow - as seen in both the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns. And now a new study provides compelling evidence that the U.S. political system is more "one dollar one vote" than "one person one vote.”

Thomas Ferguson, director of research with the Institute for New Economic Thinking in New York, and his team examined data on Congressional races and discovered a stark correlation.

"Basically, you get the percentage of votes that you have of the percentage of money,” Ferguson said. "It's an amazingly crass relationship, and it's very direct and it holds for hundreds of elections."

Researchers created a chart to track spending and votes in U.S. Senate and House races since 1980. Ferguson explained that if there was no relationship between money and votes, the chart would be scattered.

Almost without exception, he said, the results produced a straight line. When parties spent little-to-no-money, they got few votes; when they spent the most money, they received the most votes.

Ferguson said the research supported findings from a Princeton and Northwestern University study that showed the poor and middle class have virtually zero influence on government when policies are opposed by the wealthiest Americans.

He cited the preference by a majority of corporations and top earners for lower taxes as one example of what can happen when politics are driven by money.

"The rest of us have to live with the consequences of that: roads that don't work, schools that are collapsing,” Ferguson said. "And the notion that the last dollar rather than the last votes should determine things strikes me as a crazy idea."

Ferguson said he hopes the data will force a conversation about the need to create a more democratic political system in the U.S.

He said publicly financing elections and free and equal time on publicly owned airwaves for candidates could be good first steps towards reducing the influence of money in politics.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD