By Sharon Byrne
Does my vote count?
That’s the question a friend asked me over happy hour one night. He was mad over my chiding him for not voting in the June primary. “Why should I?” he asked heatedly. “Does my vote really count?”
The idealist in me wanted to trot out Founding Father quotes on the duty of every citizen to vote, as this right to democracy was won only after serious bloodshed. I wanted to evoke images of intrepid American voters carrying their carefully marked ballots in the exercise of the right to self-government by electing representatives we feel will best serve the country.
But I paused. We no longer do that, do we? We don’t think of what’s best for the country, state, or city. We think about what’s best for us, and who will serve that. We do that even when doing so might be counter to the best interests of the public.
Enter the rise of clientele politics. In this messy churn of democracy, you can’t take a chance that someone might get elected that won’t do what you want. So people organize into groups, like the green movement, or corporate PACs, where they groom, fund and elect representatives who serve their interests, as one would a client. They micromanage their representatives, with lobbying and campaign contributions right before a key vote to ensure that vote goes their way. Maplight.org does a great job of unmasking contributions to Congress: http://maplight.org/us-congress/legislator Click on a legislator, you’ll get interesting stats like how much money came in from the district vs out of district, out of state, etc.
The ‘$ Near Votes’ tab reveals who gives money in support or opposition of a particular bill, what their interest in that bill is, and how the rep voted. Notice how rarely a legislator votes against a client, er, contributor.
We have the best government money can buy. This is not democracy. It’s votes-for-sale.
I haven’t seen this term nearly enough in print, but clientele politics is a huge problem. Please resist the temptation to fall out immediately into an ideological polarity position – ‘it’s those other guys, darn it – they’re the problem!’ Both parties serve clients.
- Trial lawyers seeking to block any tort reform legislation that forces the losing party in a frivolous lawsuit to pay the winner’s legal fees.
- Big pharmaceutical companies that want to ensure drug price control bills never make it out of committee.
- Public Employee Unions who want outcomes favorable to their members.
- Environmental groups and firms.
It doesn’t matter which side of the ideological side of the fence any of these groups stands on. They’re clients. In tight races, some clients make contributions to both candidates to make sure their interests are served regardless of election outcomes.
There’s some non-partisanship for ya’.
This isn’t just a national or state problem. We have client politics locally too. Client groups deliver votes. Lots of them. Gather enough client groups who will mobilize their supporters, and you’ve got a path to electoral victory.
Watch for client groups in the next election.
Watch for them now – pay attention to the causes or groups your government officials rally to.
The golden rules of clientele politics:
- If it benefits my clients, I vote for it.
- If it doesn’t benefit my clients, I vote against it.
- If it benefits my client’s opposition, I vote against it.
- If it benefits the opposition’s clients, I vote against it.
Wonder why there’s gridlock in US, state or local government? Wonder why they don’t act in the public’s best interest? It’s not necessarily partisan politics. It’s client-driven politics.
Here’s what you can do to combat clientele politics:
- Examine candidates: who endorsed them, who backed them financially. Those are their clients. If you’re an average middle class voter, chances are very good that there is no PAC or group out there advocating for you. Who ever heard of Middle-Class Americans For a Better Country? Wait, there probably is such a group. They’re likely a shadow PAC for pro-life groups.
- Support disclosure laws. Those would force the revelation of clients hiding behind shadow PACs.
- Register as Decline-To-State. Indies definitively dislike partisan and clientele politics, so no camp can count on us to get them across the finish line. They have to win us over. Even better, there are enough of us now to swing elections. There’s power in that because candidates have to answer our concerns on specific issues, not just rely on party or client rhetoric. As a DTS voter, I am targeted by every candidate. Pick the one you think is best for the job, but you still have to know their clients, so you know how they’ll vote…
- Better yet, find a candidate who shuns clientele politics.
- Or run for office yourself, and be wary of would-be-clients bearing campaign funds in exchange for your indebtedness to their cause.