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Whose Team is Your Rep Playing For?

Adam Lioz

The New York Times recently published a great piece on fundraising by freshmen congressmen/women on the highly-coveted House Financial Services Committee. It included this surprisingly frank statement from an industry lobbyist:

“It is almost like investing in a first-round draft pick for the N.B.A. or N.F.L…There is potential there. So we make an investment, and we are hopeful that investment produces a return.”

This raises an obvious question: if a deep-pocketed industry rep “drafts” your member of Congress, whose team, exactly, is he playing for?

As my Demos colleagues have demonstrated in a February 2013 report (covered by the New York Times here), academic research backs up what most Americans already suspect: collectively, policymakers are playing hard for Team 1%.

After studying the link between actual policy and the preferences of Americans across different income strata, for example, Princeton political scientist Martin Gilens concluded that

“American government does respond to the public’s preferences, but that responsiveness is strongly tilted toward the most affluent citizens. Indeed, under most circumstances, the preferences of the vast majority of Americans appear to have essentially no impact on which policies the government does or doesn’t adopt.”

As if things aren’t bad enough already, this October the Supreme Court will hear oral argument on a case that could make matters worse.  In McCutcheon v. FEC, big-money backers seek to eliminate the cap on the total amount that a wealthy donor can give to all federal candidates, parties, and PACs combined. This case could be the next Citizens United, opening up new ways for millionaires and billionaires to give huge sums to determine who runs for office, who wins elections, and what policies our lawmakers ultimately pursue.

Demos joined with organizations representing 9.4 million members and supporters in filing an amicus brief urging the Court not to do big-money’s bidding, further stripping Americans’ confidence in our democracy. Our partners include organizations representing working families (CWA, AFT, Working Families Organization), communities of color (NAACP), environmentalists (Sierra Club, Greenpeace), youth (Rock the Vote, Our Time), small business (Main Street Alliance), and the public interest (People for the American Way, U.S. PIRG).

We’d like our representatives to play for our team.