How does the campaign finance system really workand why do corporate executives say they contribute?
Dollars and Votes
How Business Campaign Contributions Subvert Democracy
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Dan Clawson, Alan Neustadtl and Mark Weller
Recent scandals, including questionable fund-raising tactics by the current administration, have brought campaign finance reform into the forefront of the news and the public consciousness. Dollars and Votes goes beyond the partial, often misleading, news stories and official records to explain how our campaign system operates. The authors conducted thorough interviews with corporate "government relations" officials about what they do and why they do it. The results provide some of the most damning evidence imaginable.
What donors, especially business donors, expect for their money is "access" and access means a lot more than a chance to meet and talk. They count on secret behind-the-scenes deals, like a tax provision that applies only to a "corporation incorporated on June 13, 1917, which has its principal place of business in Bartlesville, Oklahoma." After a deal is worked out behind closed doors, one executive explains, "it doesn't much matter how people vote afterwards."
Ordinary contributions give access to Congress; megabuck "soft money" contributions ensure access to the President and top leaders. The striking truth revealed by these authors is that half the soft money comes from fewer than five hundred big donors, and that most contributions come, directly or indirectly, from business. Reform is possible, they argue, by turning away from the temptation of looking at specific scandals and developing a new system that removes the influence of big money campaign contributors.
"Clawson et al, redefine the campaign finance reform debate with Clean Money Campaign Reformthe sweeping solution raging through the states. If anyone doubts its potential as federal reform, they must read the arguments for it in this book. No thinking person can be against it."
"Indispensable for engaged citizens and serious analysts. Virtually every federal Government issue deeply affecting people's lives is not damagingly skewed by the way big special-interest election money dominates our politics. Understanding just how dollars currently beat voters is the needed first step toward mobilizing forces for change and toward restoring American democracy."
"This is the definitive study of the growing importance of business money in contemporary electoral politics. Clawson, Neustadt and Weller put to rest the obfuscations that have prevented effective reform. As Lincoln Steffens showed for machine politics, they demonstrate that the problem is rooted in the deep pockets of a business community that systematically seeks to dominate our political system."
"This is something extremely rare, a book that is up-to-date and a major contribution to political sociology. Anyone who cares about the future of democracy should read this book and contend with its arguments."
"This sharply critical and well-researched diatribe on the evils of Political Action Committees (PACS) leaves readers with a clearly defined battle line between business and government."
"The authors interview dozens of corporate officials who candidlyand often amusinglydescribe their dollars at work."
Mark Weller teaches sociology at San Jose State.