Submitted by: Veronica Coffin
In American politics, money equals speech, so it stands to reason that a lot of money equals a lot of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court, in its 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, ruled as much – and it has led to “unprecedented amounts of outside spending” in elections since, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
And while many applauded the high court’s ruling as a victory for political “free speech” and the First Amendment, others have roundly criticized it as a ruling enshrining the notion that really, when all is said and done, American democracy is the best money can buy.
“The case, along with other legal developments, spawned the creation of super PACs, which can accept unlimited contributions from corporate and union treasuries, as well as from individuals; these groups spent more than $600 million in the 2012 election cycle,” the center said. “It also triggered a boom in political activity by tax-exempt ‘dark money’ organizations that don’t have to disclose their donors.”
Every possible industry has jumped into the fray, spending hundreds of billions of dollars (collectively) to push their preferred candidates, their preferred legal cases, and their preferred market positions, all in an attempt to win favor with a federal government that has never been more for sale.
The pharmaceutical companies make out like bandits
Big Pharma is a massive case in point.
The federal government is the single largest purchaser of healthcare services in the country, between Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Veterans Administration, the military and other benefits and entitlement programs. According to a 2014 budget analysis by the Heritage Foundation, major health care programs – along with interest on the national debt and Social Security – was one of the federal government’s largest budget categories.
As such, it only makes sense – to the recipients of all of that largess – to lobby for as much tax money as they can possibly obtain.
According to a major review of political spending, the Sunshine Foundation found that Big Pharma received an astounding 77,500 percent ROI – “return on investment” on its political spending. In particular, for every $1 million the industry spends to lobby lawmakers, it gets $77.5 billion in return. In particular, Big Pharma lobbies to prevent Medicare from bargaining for competitive drug prices, so that taxpayers who foot the bill get a better deal; the Sunshine Foundation estimates that Medicare bargaining could save taxpayers $90 billion a year.
And it’s not just Big Pharma getting in on the gravy train. As the Sunshine Foundation noted in its report:
Between 2007 and 2012, 200 of America’s most politically active corporations spent a combined $5.8 billion on federal lobbying and campaign contributions. A year-long analysis by the Sunlight Foundation suggests, however, that what they gave pales compared to what those same corporations got: $4.4 trillion in federal business and support.
That figure, more than the $4.3 trillion the federal government paid the nation’s 50 million Social Security recipients over the same period, is the result of an unprecedented effort to quantify the less-examined side of the campaign finance equation: Do political donors get something in return for what they give?
Staggering amounts of money – and influence
The organization focused on records of 200 for-profit corporations, each of them having active political action committees and lobbyists during the 2008, 2010 and 2012 election cycles. These corporations were the top donors to campaign committees that had registered with the Federal Election Commission.
“Their investment in politics was enormous,” said the foundation’s analysis. “There were 20,500 paying lobbying clients over the six years we examined; the 200 companies we tracked accounted for a whopping 26 percent of the total spent.”
On average, the corporate-funded PACs contributed to the campaigns of 144 lawmakers from both parties during the examined period.
Like we said, the best democracy money can buy.