In politics, small campaign contributions do egalitarian work

As I look upon the political landscape, I see a land of corruption. Yes, there are many bright spots, but mostly what I see in the news is how wealthy people who are set for life, can be willing to lie, cheat and steal to get their own way, and impose their will upon others in politics. I see how those same people have been indicted for their acts of corruption. I see how one faction wants to exert their will over another. I see how few people are willing to admit that politics is the art of getting along. At the bottom of it all is money.

Money is a relatively recent invention in the evolutionary history of humanity. Money is the grease that makes our societies a bit more civil, but apparently, not quite civilized yet. In polite company, money is one way to say, “please”. In somewhat less polite circles, money is a way to command others to do what we want. Money and how we use it, is an agreement about what to use as a medium of exchange.

Money is a source of influence. There are people who believe that other people are motivated by money. In fairness, we do far more out of desire to just do it, than to do something for money. Still, we are motivated to work for money. We use money to get our needs met, like water, food, shelter and healthcare. And we also use money to get things we want, but perhaps we might not need. Power over other people might fall into the latter category.

While current affairs and political discourse are focused on the corruption in politics, income inequality and the need for a healthcare system that works for all of us, few are talking about the value of a life free of “entanglements”. Entanglements are what we get into when we accept an inordinately large sum of cash for “a favor”. These favors are usually political in nature.

Hardly a month goes by that some political figure is not accused of or indicted for acceptance of a bribe to do some dirty deed. This is true across the spectrum of politics. In these stories, somebody with money enticed someone else with a large sum of money to do something that the recipient would not otherwise be willing to do. The recipient must weight the risks against the benefit of all that dosh, and once the assessment is complete, and the money is accepted, he must perform the task as ordered.

These sorts of decisions are loaded with adrenaline. I just don’t know how these corrupt people sleep at night. But the adrenaline arising from corruption is addictive, and there is a cycle to it all. And once the cycle starts, the people engaged in corruption must “normalize” it, by building a tolerance for the adrenaline that comes with it. They must find a way to be comfortable with what they’re doing because it’s very hard to sleep when loaded on adrenaline.

Corruption is an exchange of dignity for money. Lying, cheating, stealing, coercion, threatening, and hiding, those acts are all undignified acts. There is no dignity in any of it. Yet, as I watch the Mueller investigation pile up indictments, and convictions, I see people who were once considered “honorable” be declared “dishonorable.” They all have undergone a loss of dignity, and they must submit to the consequences of their actions.

None of this has to happen. There are no victims, only volunteers.

Back in the day, I used to go to meetings. During those meetings, we used to read something called “The Twelve Traditions”. One of those traditions always caught my eye:

Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, there was a chapter devoted to each step and each tradition. And the chapter devoted to Tradition 7, the one about being self-supporting, blew my mind because it describes the problem we’re in now. Therein, I read of a story where AA was offered a large donation to build a facility for the purpose of treatment of alcoholics. Huge fights over the money ensued. And those fights were enough to convince the members of their organization to keep it poor. The reason they wanted to keep it poor was to avoid outside influence.

AA discovered something long ago that could help us now. They discovered that with great gifts comes great responsibility. But that responsibility is to the donor, more than anyone else. With every gift it seems, comes an implied debt that must be repaid. No one, not even your best politicians can avoid that sense of obligation to the donor. In fact, donors are counting on this sense of obligation to coerce you into getting their work done.

The big money in politics explains the extreme inequality we have now. The big money in politics explains why year after year, laws that benefit everyone seem to be harder and harder to find on the books and on the president’s desk. For when people have a lot of money, more money than most of us reading this article can dream of, they still want more. In the stratosphere, the only thing that matters is the number. At that point, adding another digit before the decimal place is the goal.

AA is the single most successful organization to turn to if you want to stop drinking. If you want to stop eating too much, there is Overeaters Anonymous. If you want to get out of debt, there is Debtors Anonymous. They are free to use, but they are supported by small donations. They are supported by small donations and they are self-supporting to avoid outside influence for the benefit of one person or another at the expense of the rest of the group. If you need help of this sort, there is a meeting out there for you.

Now I’m going to talk about Bernie Sanders. Before you get ahead of yourself, take note that I’m not trying to equate Bernie with AA. No, that’s not the point here. I’m just saying that he’s successful as a politician because as far as I can tell, he has avoided the trap of accepting large donations to his campaigns to avoid implied obligations to a tiny, wealthy, minority. I looked at his funding sources and better than 90% of his campaign contributions were small contributions. And for awhile, one of his slogans was $27, because the average contribution to his campaign for president was $27.

To put it differently, because the vast majority of his campaign contributions are small, his legislation tends to benefit a greater number of people because he feels an obligation to help a greater number of people. In contrast, a politician who takes large contributions from a few sources, even while taking many small contributions from ordinary people, will still feel that tug, that pull, in the direction of the large donors.

A while back, I wrote about the gift economy. The premise of the gift economy is that when you give a gift to a potential customer, they will feel obligated to come back and patronize your business. This is why there are rebates and coupons and the like. Ever wonder why they don’t just cut their prices instead? Businesses who give stuff away for free are expecting something in return. Businesses who give stuff to politicians are also expecting something in return.

Now ask yourself, do you want to be represented by a politician who accepts large donations to his campaign? Or not?

Write on.

Written by

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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