Government for Sale

Held every year at the Washington Hilton, the prayer breakfast festivities span several days during the first week of February, with the American president appearing at a ceremonial breakfast on Thursday. The days are packed with programming, after which guests head to private suites with names like the Africa room and the Middle East room, or to fancier hotels in nearby Georgetown, where they mingle late into the night — praying, sharing business cards and sometimes draining expensive bottles of cognac. A favorite activity is an annual midnight tour of the Capitol, hosted by a former congressman.

Some describe the gathering as similar to the World Economic Forum, except that Jesus is the organizing principle. The eclectic guest list has included the Dalai Lama, the Rev. Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, the singer Bono and the former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, as well as the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

Lobbyists say the event has become even more of a coveted invitation in the Trump era, as foreign politicians scrambled to forge connections with a president who swept into office with few ties to the international community or Washington’s hierarchy of established foreign access brokers.

Source: NYT 7/29/18.

Film: Dark Money

I’m looking forward the summer release of this documentary film, Dark Money, on the history campaign finance reform in Montana from the 1880s to Citizens United.

Watch the film trailer here.

A century ago, corrupt money swamped Montana’s legislature, but Montanans rose up to prohibit corporate campaign contributions. Today, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision — which allows unlimited, anonymous money to pour into elections nationwide — Montana is once again fighting to preserve open and honest elections. Following an investigative reporter through a political thriller, DARK MONEY exposes one of the greatest threats to American democracy.

Watch an interview with the director here.

Democracy For Sale

“Our democracy is not supposed to be a tug of war between a couple of billionaires on the left and a couple of billionaires on the right,”

“Our democracy is not supposed to be a tug of war between a couple of billionaires on the left and a couple of billionaires on the right.”

Yes, unfortunately, it is.

As the charts below show, the billionaire class writes big checks to candidates and partisan campaign committees.  Why?  Because they want access to the politicians, once in office, to influence both the legislative agendas and the actual text of laws.

While we have a roughly and anachronistically speaking a “one man, one vote” democracy for elections, that doesn’t mean the output of our republican system of government is representative of the will of the people, because most people don’t have equal access to the candidates and office holders.

Chart - Top Donors 2017-18 - NYT - 2018-04-13.jpeg

Chart - Top Donors part II - 2017-18 - NYT - 2018-04-13

Source: NYT 4/13/18.

See other posts on this topic tagged #campaign finance, and below.

Chart: Campaign Super Donors

I’m shocked, shocked politicians doing the bidding of their campaign contributors



College as the US Class Mobility Stiffler

Higher education is not the class leveler American like to believe it is.

The post-war US built an excellent multi-tiered higher educational system that offered clear pathways for class mobility to the baby boom generation. But this class mobility escalator has stalled, leaving children of working class families still working class, only now they are saddled with crushing higher educational debt.

Graduation Rates

First, class predicts graduation rates.

Chart - College Graduation Gap by Income - NYT - 2018-03-31

Source: NYT 03/26/18.

College Graduate Marriage Rates

Second, marriage rates of college graduates – a prime vehicle for protecting and amplifying class standing — are differentially adverse to working class college graduates of the same elite schools.  Quoting from a Times article:

Marriage rates for young adults just out of college are low across the board. But as people get into their 30s, trends diverge. For example, more than half of Princeton students born into upper-income households in the early 1980s — roughly, the classes of 2002 through 2006 — were married by 2014. They didn’t all marry other Princetonians, of course, but it’s common.

But for Princeton alumni from the lowest-income households — the bottom one-fifth compared with the top one-fifth — the trends are different. Only a third were married by 2014. This pattern holds for other elite colleges and universities. For people born over the five years from 1980 to 1984, the marriage rate for upper-income students who attended Ivy League institutions was 14 percentage points higher than the rate for lower-income students.

Chart - Marriage Rates Select Colleges - NYT - 2018-04-01

See Also

See also this prior blog post on elite education’s stifling of class mobility

Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu referred to education as social capital that can be translated into economic capital.  We see it at work here.

Higher education is not the class leveler that Americans like to believe it is.


Quote: The Rich worry about the people above them more than the people below them

“I feel like, no matter what you have, somebody has about a hundred times that,” she explains.  Another woman with a similar household income, mostly earned by her corporate-lawyer husband, described her family’s situation as “fine. […] I mean there are all the bankers that are heads and heels, you know, way above us.”  A third woman, with an even higher household income – two and a half million dollars a year — objects to [the researcher]’s use of the word “affluent. […] “Affluent is relative,” the woman observes. Some friends of hers have recently flown off on vacation on a private plane.  “That’s affluence,” she says.

Quoting Rachel Sherman, professor of sociology at the New School for Social Research (Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence) in Elizabeth Kolbert, Feeling Low: The psychology of inequality.  New Yorker, 1/1/5/18.

Sociology as long known of reference group theory.  At least among the middle class and above, those groups tend to evaluate themselves relative to the group above them rather than the group(s) immediately below them. The social threat to these groups is from not keeping up rather than their lessors catching up.  This may not be the same for working class Americans, as there is a rich literature in the use of racial division to keep otherwise economically equally precarious groups of blacks and whites divided.

Chart: State-level PAC contributions

Uncontrolled and untrackable corporate campaign contributions distort state-level races as much, if not more, than federal races.

U.S. companies have found a loophole in state campaign-finance rules by funneling donations aimed at helping candidates through the [Republican Governors Association, or RGA, a Republican fundraising PAC] and its Democratic counterpart, according to multiple former officials. Donors can’t earmark money for a particular candidate. Instead, they can simply—and legally—tell the groups they have “an interest” in a race or are making a donation “at the request” of a gubernatorial candidate, these officials say.

An internal tracking system, sometimes called the “tally,” allows the [Democratic Governors Association, DGA] to keep tabs on how much individual governors raise for the association from companies and other donors, which later helps it figure out how to allocate the money, former DGA officials said. The RGA has a similar system, former RGA officials say.

Multiple former RGA and DGA officials described the practice of guiding donations as an open secret. The available public data hint at a pattern, too. Over the past decade, 42 S&P 500 index companies gave donations of $100,000 or more to the RGA or DGA. Donations by 19 of those companies were followed by an RGA or DGA expenditure of the same or greater amount within a month in a state where the company has operations, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks campaign donations.


Chart - Corp Contributions to Party Governor Associates - 2017-12-30

Source: WSJ 12/30/17.