Only the Wealthy Can Run For Office

I believe that critiquing something should not be equated with hating it, but instead, with acknowledging a way it can be better or stronger. And one critique I have of America is  how it allows wealth to dictate power and magnify impact.

This country operates on a system of representation, where citizens elect politicians that they want to represent their ideals and carry out their needs, but how do people even find out who their options for representation are?

One significant way is through having volunteers spread the word, but there are monetary methods that help tremendously, such as purchasing advertisements on TV and sending out mail, and these things are expensive.

“Say you were running in California, there’s about 30 million people, you gotta figure somewhere around 20 million vote, so imagine if you had to send out 20 million letters—just stamps alone,” said Herbert Gooch, a political science professor at California Lutheran University.

Echoing the magnitude of how much money is raised to run for office, The Campaign Finance Institute wrote that the last election cycle cost an average of $1.5 million and $10.5 million for the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, to win.

So, who typically gets the opportunity to run? People who already have the monetary capacity to, and if not, people who have the time to raise money.

That said, campaigns are expensive, and money is necessary to run the race. It is not right that a potentially amazing candidate does not have the opportunity to better the country as they see fit solely due to lack of capital.

Money affects politics through already elected officials as well. By helping keep incumbents in office and potentially swaying how they vote through lobbying and donations, wealthy individuals can impact those in office in how they decide on bills.

Politicians see this as a problem as well.

Congresswoman Julia Brownley’s words were relayed through Communications Director Samantha Greene in an email interview, and she said, “Our campaign finance system is broken and must be fixed to restore the levers of democracy to the people. Citizens also have the right to know who is seeking to influence their votes and their legislators. I strongly support legislation to require more disclosure of campaign spending by shadowy outside special interest groups.”

Money influencing politics is the way the system has been running for years, but it is not the only way.

“You gotta take that money out, you gotta rescind Citizens United, that’s one way. Another way of doing it is just focusing on community organizing,” said Gregory Freeland a political science professor at Cal Lutheran.

There are other options that could be considered as well, but even these options are imperfect. Giving equal publicity to candidates would be difficult if there were too many, putting a limit on how much money can be raised would give incumbents an unfair advantage. Eradicating the system without a replacement would be irresponsible. There is no easy alternative, but I see no fairness in the present system.

“It is difficult because the argument is that money is like a force multiplier, it’s like an extension of your voice, so your ability to give should be just like the ability to express yourself,” Gooch said.

Now, after all this, a person could say that submitting money is a protected form of free speech, and that a person should not be guilted for earning or obtaining the money that they have. I agree, there is absolutely nothing wrong or shameful about having wealth. However, I would say that giving so much power to the wealthy undercuts the opportunity for others to exercise their free speech.

I believe that there is so much to America that makes it a phenomenal country, but the pervasive nature of money in campaigning, lobbying and other political endeavors, with politics makes it so that power and voice are much more accessible for the wealthy. America is often called the land of opportunity, but because of how large of a role money plays, that opportunity is mostly for those that can afford it.

 Lara Santos