The influence of big money is everywhere in politics. Whether it’s in the primary elections, general elections, Super PAC spending, industry lobbyists, or donations from Wall Street, this is how our political decisions get made, regardless of who or which party comes out on top on election day.
In 2017, according to Open Secrets and the Center for Responsive Politics, the healthcare industry spent $547 million on lobbying. That is over a million dollars for each member of Congress, involving almost 4,000 lobbyists.
Nice work if you can get it.
Maybe it’s not so much money if you consider the size of our healthcare spend at $3.3 trillion. But, while not directly correlated, the size of the industry and the size of the lobby certainly seem to be mutually reinforcing. After all, the focus of all those lobbying dollars is not to make healthcare cheaper.
What does all this money buy? Not much for you and me.
Think of all the care that could have been provided with $547 million. It’s enough to insure a lot of uninsured people at a basic level. At $75 per visit, it would pay for 7 million kids to get their teeth cleaned once a year. Then again, I suppose, we would have the problem of all those unemployed lobbyists.
2017 Healthcare Lobbying Expenses – Center for Responsive Politics
|Industry Category||Amount spent||Percentage of total spent||Lobbyists|
|Pharma & Products||$277,784,999||51%||1,480|
|Hospitals & Nursing Homes||$99,630,303||18%||813|
A lot of money has been raised here in Massachusetts’s 3rd Congressional District race. As of March 31, over $5 million had been raised by Democrats in the primary race. With another five months to go before the primary, we could easily see another couple million raised bringing the total to over $7 million. With an expected voter turnout of about 60,000 people in the Democratic primary, this comes to well over $100 per vote.
What if we turned this around and paid people to vote? Imagine that you got $100 for showing up at the polls. You’d probably get a lot more that 60,000 people voting. Would that be such a bad thing? You could go to the polls, buy the kids some ice cream, maybe fix that tire which has a slow leak, or just pay the electric bill to get back on cycle.
Now, I don’t begrudge the candidates who have raised a lot of money. It takes a lot of work to raise enough money to run a campaign. I know from firsthand experience.
What do the healthcare lobby and our local congressional race have in common? What connects these very separate worlds?
The connection is that money is the enabler. It flows from wealth, power, and influence to politicians who spend it to generate votes. The conclusion of a 2014 report by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page that examined 1,779 policy issues over the past thirty years is that ordinary people had “little or no independent influence” on policy outcomes. This isn’t exclusively a Democratic problem or a Republican problem. This is an American problem.
As was once said, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Given the cost of the piper, regular Americans don’t even get invited to the dance.