[li]It takes money to run for national office. This is especially true of the presidency. Personal wealth is usually a prerequisite for any serious candidate, and constant fundraising is a must. Which brings us to…[/li][li]The bulk of campaign contributions come from wealthy individuals and corporations. Since campaigns are expensive and fundraising time is finite, candidates naturally solicit money from as many big donors as possible. To this end, both parties have set up giving clubs which offer special perks and privileges for sizeable donations. Which is one of the reasons that…[/li][li]Money gets you access to officeholders. Hey, it’s quid pro quo. I give $100,000 and I’ll expect a little of the candidate’s time. And don’t think we won’t be talking shop. In 1999, over 20 corporations gave at least $50,000 to each party. That’s not altruism, it’s covering your bases. Candidates are so dependent on these contributions, in fact, that more time is spent fundraising than any other activity while campaigning or in office. Which is why…[/li][li]Donors are an officeholder’s core constituency. It’s only natural. We’re creatures of self-interest, on the whole. Politicians are surrounded by wealth all day long–wealthy contributors, wealthy consultants, wealthy colleagues. They’re probably wealthy themselves. Their world, in short, is pretty homogenous–and so are the perspectives by which their world-view is rationally informed. If liberalized trade barriers (or deregulation of the telecommunications industry, or China’s admittance to the WTO) benefit you, and benefit your friends, and benefit your donors–well, you’re not likely to consider any other points of view, are you? Which leads us to conclude that…[/li][li]The interests of the wealthy exert disproportionate influence over public policy. Look, the wealthiest twenty percent of the population has more money than the other eighty percent combined. Rich people are a distinct demographic minority, yet are overwhelmingly represented in Washington. I think it’s fair to say that there are issues on which people of different incomes will have different opinions. Furthermore, a millionaire is more likely to agree with another millionaire on matters of policy than with a single mother who works two jobs and earns $20,000 a year. Yet there are far more of these single mothers–or others in similar circumstances–than there are millionaires. But whose opinions do the politicians most often hear?[/li][/ul]
To sum up: Rich people run for office and get elected. Other rich people give money to the rich people who run for office and get elected. To get more money from the rich people who give money, the rich people who run for office and get elected offer those rich people time and access not given to poor or middle-class people. The people who make policy decisions in this country are almost always rich, and usually have the interests of the rich foremost in mind. The interests of the rich are not always compatible with the interests of the rest of us.
The United States is a plutocracy, Q.E.D.