Money and Politics

by Anna Ekindjian Edwards '98

Anna Ekindjian Edwards ’98When I was a kid and new movies would open on a Friday night, the media would report how many tickets each film had sold nationwide and rank the box office winners.

I can’t pinpoint when this shift happened, but somewhere along the way, they stopped reporting ticket sales and started reporting how much money films gross on opening night.

It appears as though a similar metric has made its way into the 2012 elections.

Earlier this year, the expression “money primary” was normalized, and coverage included an analysis of funds raised and spent, cash-on-hand, and breakdowns of the candidates, party committees, and outside groups. Wealthy donors can give anonymously to social welfare organizations, but some choose to give to entities where their giving is disclosed, making them celebrities in their own right.

Fundraising emails arrive multiple times a day in my inbox, whereas they used to arrive multiple times per week. The Federal Election Commission requires candidates to file quarterly, and the candidates’ campaigns have created artificial monthly fundraising deadlines to create a sense of urgency for donors so they can report more frequently on their progress in the “money race.”

I worry not about what all of this money will buy, but what this fixation with money in politics may do to voter turnout.

There’s something called the psychological disenfranchisement of voters; Gloria Steinem was the first person I heard describe this effect. In earlier times, when those in power wanted to keep people out of democracy, they had laws on the books that prevented people of color and women from voting. Poll taxes and voter intimidation further disenfranchised voters. Now that it is more difficult (but not impossible) to use the law, those who want to suppress voter turnout can psychologically disenfranchise voters by essentially creating the notion that your vote doesn’t matter.

It happens when a Democrat and Republican are married and say, “Our votes just cancel each other out, so we don’t vote.” It happens when a candidate starts a sentence with”I agree with my opponent on x, y, and z,” and reinforces the belief that all politicians are the same. It happens when someone says, “I feel like they’re all corrupt, and none of them deserve to be reelected.” It happens when third-party candidates get in a race and perpetuate the idea that the two main political parties are one and the same.

Some would describe this as “voter apathy” or “voter fatigue,” which puts the onus on the voter and suggests that the voter doesn’t care or is tired. It is true that, in a democracy, voting is a right, and we have a responsibility to actually go to the polls and vote. But placing the blame for their own disenfranchisement on those who do not feel their vote counts is a convenient way for people to shrug off responsibility for contributing to voter suppression.

This election cycle, I see the heightened focus on money in politics as the newest form of psychological voter suppression.

At best, the likely voters who make an effort to follow the news and understand the candidates’ positions will get tired of the fundraising spam and hearing about the money race, and they will stop giving money to candidates and political organizations. We will lose small donors, but they will still vote.

At worst, a college student in Ohio will not go to the polls because she feels her vote won’t mean anything in an election year that is bought and paid for by the zillionaires on both sides.

If the entertainment industry wants money to be its measure of success, that’s fine with me. I don’t have a problem when it is a commercial contest between Batman and Spiderman. But when we’re electing leaders to the highest offices in the land, don’t let anyone tell you that money matters more than your vote.

Nothing matters more than your vote on November 6.

Anna Ekindjian Edwards is director of corporate relations and development for The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She has worked as a consultant for the Middle East and North Africa team with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. She traveled to Cairo post-revolution to train political party leaders, parliamentary and presidential candidates, and youth organizers in Egypt’s emerging democracy. Edwards served as a longterm observer for the Jordanian parliamentary elections in the fall of 2010 to assess the freeness, fairness, and transparency of the election and make recommendations. During the 2008 U.S. election cycle, she served as the development director for America Votes. In spring 2011, she was the Lois Langland Alumna-in-Residence for a week at Scripps College.

 

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