In 2012 the movie, music, and television industries made $6 million in political contributions to Barack Obama's campaign. Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association, a much smaller and narrower grouping of individuals with far less disposable income contributed $804,301 (a number which pales in comparison to $6 million, but for a single issue is still a very large sum) to various 2011-2012 Republican campaigns. While these numbers are very different, when interpreted as a percentage of disposable income they are very similar. While a faction of Hollywood political spending did go to Republican candidates, 70% was spent on Democrats while the NRA supported only Republicans. These two examples of political spending by corporate interests are meant to show that both parties are influenced by this influx of money attached to private interests.
Naturally, expectations are attached to these donations. Whenever one receives money or a gift there is an implied quid pro quo situation. I give you a birthday present expecting you to give me one on my birthday and it is uncomfortable if one of us does not uphold this unspoken agreement. The same holds for politics. There is a reason that money flows in attached to the label of Hollywood or the NRA.
To be very blunt, Hollywood money comes in with the implied understanding that if the candidate invested in is elected, he or she will protect LGBTQ rights, for example. NRA money, essentially, buys candidates that will safeguard the Second Amendment with no exceptions.
Obviously following the landmark "Citizens United" Supreme Court case, it has become easier to donate to political campaigns with these clear expectations of recompense. When a corporation does not need to dissociate itself from its contributions, candidates know exactly how much money is coming from particular groups and what those groups' interests are. Therefore, a politician knows exactly what he or she must do in order to maintain that cash inflow or to express his or her gratitude.
Citizens United, however, did not increase political spending by groups like the NRA and Hollywood. In fact, NRA political spending peaked in 2000, well before Citizens United was even a twinkle in Congress' eye, at just over $3 million. Hollywood, on the other hand, has been increasing its spending steadily. This likely has less to do with Citizens United and more to do with Hollywood actors and directors making more money in an increasingly lucrative industry.
Campaign finance is nothing new. In his 1907 State of the Union address, Teddy Roosevelt said that Congress did not pay politicians enough to justify making political contributions illegal. Congress seems to have taken one step forward and two steps back when trying to regulate campaign finance. In 1973, Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act which required candidates to publish all campaign contributions. Then in 2010, as stated above, Citizens United essentially made the Federal Election Campaign Act obsolete — taking us right back to square one.
The fact of the matter is that monetary political contributions will always be a part of politics and there will always be politicians willing to sell their vote to the highest bidder. Does this undermine the democratic process? Is the system in the U.S. really one vote per person or is it more like one vote per dollar? These are questions too big to answer satisfactorily in this article. My opinion, however, is that transparency is a good thing and that politicians who advertise themselves as conscientious individuals should vote their conscience. If a representative is elected who represents single issues like gun rights or gay marriage and is elected having said made these statements, then the people have spoken. Money can only get you so far. The problem arises when you lie about what you stand for and then change your mind once money enters the picture.