This is the question being asked in both parties this political season. It is being asked in different ways and for different reasons by each party, but this question is paramount.
The Democrats are focused on income and opportunity inequality brought about by unfairness imbedded in our law, economy and society. They are also virulently against the flow of unlimited “dark money” into the political process by virtue of the U. S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizen’s United case. Republicans, who are now also beginning to voice concerns about income equality, are incredibly angry about “establishment” politics (the “Washington Cartel”); entrenched special interests; bank bailouts; job loss brought about by what they see as bad trade agreements; fear of economic damage and loss of personal security they attribute to illegal immigrants; and; in general, what they see as the loss of the society they equate with the American Dream.
At the heart of all the discontent in both parties is the firm belief that our government is rigged against us by insiders.
The voters are not wrong to feel this way. In fact, they are almost entirely correct.
The fact of the matter in Washington and Austin is that special interests and their lobbyists dominate the legislative arena. Special interests and lobbyists don’t just voice their concerns to the politicians and then allow the legislators to draft the bills they (the legislators) think are appropriate. Those seeking legislative action first identify all those in the state legislature or U.S. Congress they believe can get them what they want. They then contribute enough money to at least get them in the door for a discussion. Money buys access. When that meeting occurs, they not only discuss their issues, they have with them a proposed bill. They do not leave it up to the politician and his staff to draft legislation. They present a complete, ready-made, canned package and a legislative strategy. If they believe committee hearings will be necessary, they will even furnish the witnesses who will testify in favor of their bill. In other words, the special interests set the agenda and the laws that are ultimately passed are almost without exception some version of what they put in front of their friendly legislators in the beginning. If your image of democracy is of a public minded politician like Washington, Jefferson and Madison slaving to write legislation and worrying about whether it serves our best interests, you will be sorely disappointed in the reality. I’ve heard it said that making laws is much like making blood sausage. It’s not pretty and not for the faint of heart. I submit it is even worse when you consider that every single ingredient is furnished by someone who has something to gain or something to protect.
The reality is that special interests and lobbyists, people not accountable to the voters, do decide what legislation is considered, how that legislation is worded and a strategy for getting it passed.
So, is the game rigged? Most voters and taxpayers would say “yes”.