The Republicans had their time. Then AT&T, Lockheed Martin, and Microsoft packed up the trade show we still call a "political convention" and moved it over to Los Angeles.
This year's conventions will cost an estimated $85 million--$25 million more than they did in 1996--and the long list of corporate sponsors to the convention's "host committees" reads like a "who's who" of companies whose profit margins are deeply affected by government decision making.
American International Group, which gave half a million dollars to the GOP convention and poured $2 million into the Democratic convention, is lobbying hard for a trade agreement with China. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the company has already invested millions of dollars setting up offices in China and training Chinese insurance agents. The company is also a generous campaign donor to federal candidates and parties, giving more than $774,000 this election cycle, 58 percent of it to Republicans.
General Motors is giving $1 million apiece to the GOP and Democratic conventions, including the free use of hundreds of SUVs and cars. For the past five years, GM, along with the rest of the auto industry, has persuaded Congress to block tough new fuel-efficiency standards for SUVs and light trucks. With gas prices averaging $1.42 per gallon this summer--more than twice the amount they were a year ago--it is consumers who bear the cost of GM's lobbying know-how, by paying exorbitant rates to fill up their gas tanks. We all pay in another way, too: Each gallon of gasoline burned pumps 19 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a major contributor to the greenhouse effect, which causes global warming. GM has contributed nearly half a million dollars to federal candidates and parties for the 2000 elections, 72 percent of it to Republicans. This money matters; senators who voted last year to stall fuel-efficiency standards received more than twice as much campaign money, on average, from the auto lobby as senators who did not.
The defense giant Lockheed Martin sells 70 percent of its wares to the federal government. The company is giving $100,000 apiece to the Democratic and GOP conventions on top of the $1.2 million given to candidates and parties (61 percent of which has gone to Republicans). Hugh Burns, a corporate spokesman, told The Washington Post that the contributions to the conventions is "part of good government--we support the democratic process."
Step back and remember why this is troubling. It's because the people living in Watts have contributed a grand total of $2,750 to federal candidates and parties for the 2000 elections. It's because only one-tenth of 1 percent of the entire U.S. population gives a contribution of $1,000 or more, and the great majority of donors are white males, age 45 or older, whose incomes are more than $100,000 a year.
The 2000 elections are expected to cost $3 billion. To put the $3 billion in perspective, it is 10 percent more than was spent in 1996, the year of the last presidential race, 46 percent more than in 1992, and 87 percent more than in 1988. According to the Children's Defense Fund, $3 billion is enough to pay for the upbringing of more than 19,000 children, from the time they are born until they are ready to go away to college at age 18.
Contrast all this with Maine, where 121 candidates on the ballot this November have signed up to use full public financing under the new Clean Election Act, as long as they agree not to raise any private money. For these candidates, there is no hobnobbing with campaign donors or getting freebies from corporate America. Instead, these candidates are spending time actually campaigning on their ideas, thanks to the freedom the state's voters gave them from the money chase. In Arizona, Vermont, and Massachusetts, a clean-money system is also state law. A grand experiment is underway--an experiment in which it is not money that will determine who wins and what they do after election day.
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