Policy and Elections Transformation from Process to Industry

Fall has swiftly engulfed Colorado and brought all the usual seasonal niceties.

Leaves are flaunting vibrant shades of red, orange and yellow, pumpkin spice latte mania has begun, the first snow evoked widespread bewilderment along the Front Range and the air is abuzz with politics… Kind of.

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We have all experienced the not-so-subtle subtleties of election years, from countless ads oozing from TV and radio, to bombardments of unsolicited emails and calls, there is no avoiding either presidential nominee. As slews of malicious accusations and manipulated facts spray from our media most of us dodge these tools of persuasion as best we can.

The culmination of political aversion came almost a month ago when ‘Honey Boo Boo’ was more successful in television ratings than either the Republican or Democratic National Convention. I repeat; Americans preferred watching the star of ‘Toddlers in Tiaras’ to the events that are intended to define nominees’ respective platforms.

Despite a dismal statement Honey Boo Boo’s ratings made on our pop culture, last week’s debate revived political engagement, capturing an audience of about 68 million and dominating social media, for better or worse. Although the public seems to have zeroed in on what they deem relevant to their voting thought process, it highlighted an ugly aspect of our political system.

Why is it that we try as hard as we can to avoid the political arena until campaign crunch time? It’s not because of disinterest or lack of political knowledge but rather there is an overwhelming sense of cheapness and superficiality to our process.

This is not anything new, but never has it been so evident that our politics are not just deciding how we run businesses, they are a business. Between lobbyists, super PACs, political consulting and direct donations, billions of dollars flow through our political system annually.

Last month, President Obama received about $180 million in donations, Mr. Romney has received more than $12 million in online donations since Wednesday’s debate alone, and in 2012 close to $2 billion will be spent lobbying by the collective industry sectors.

Where does this money go? Well, a good part is spent on teams of political consultants that sift through infinite amounts of data, transcripts and video hoping to divulge a potential campaign weapon.

Some is spent on lobbyist salaries, some spent on ads, some event planning, the list goes on and on but certainly nothing substantive for the American public is included.

If PBS, which Romney claims he would cut spending to if elected, received donations at the same rate as the former governor has the last five days the station would cover its yearly expenses in less than five months. Unfortunately, Big Bird doesn’t have big business behind him. The bottom line? Policy is being bought, whether we acknowledge it or not.

The institution of political consulting in the U.S. dates back to the 1930s by a company known as Campaigns Inc., in large, paving the way for big money’s involvement in state and federal legislatures.

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Since that time, we have witnessed exponential growth of lobbying and political consulting as well as the birth of super PACs, which — in laymen’s terms — is money laundering with a nicer suit.

The integrity of the respective campaigns face constant attacks from opponents yet all sides employ similar tactics. Our political system could be superimposed over AMC’s “Mad Men” without too many adjustments, the largest difference being, we’re being sold policy instead of cigarettes or slacks.

Neither Obama nor Romney bear sole blame for the flaws of our political inner workings but they are not doing anything to address the issue. Until we have the ability to insist and incentivize legislation and elections to be transparent we will continue to witness this big money trend. It is a daunting task with no clear solution and is almost certainly the kiss of death for any politician that approaches it.

Every major social movement from civil rights to women’s suffrage has taken years of dedication from countless individuals. Americans are discouraged by the way policy makers are conducting business, but the harsh reality is nothing can change when we only actively participate during the four weeks prior to Election Day.

High caliber politics is the sum of an informed and engaged public, a year-round job. Unfortunately, this requires watching the news instead of Honey Boo Boo.

Bryce Liedtke is a senior finance major. His columns appear every other Tuesday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.