In Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig’s book Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It, he argues that the biggest obstacle we face in our judicial system today is dependency corruption. It is the primary reason that only 11% of Americans approve of Congress’ actions and 71% of Republicans and 81% of Democrats believe that “money buys results in Congress.”
Lessig begins by explaining that it is not a problem of greedy government officials taking paper bags full of money from corporations, rather, dependency corruption is caused by our political system that incentivizes politicians to supplement their campaign funds and incomes with donations in order stay in office. Officials must spend an obscene amount of time fundraising in order to be reelected.
This results in officials shifting their focus from serving the people to finding their next donation, usually from the top 1% of Americans who “gift” large donations to officials they believe will represent their interests. Politicians then spend the time they are not fundraising to vote on issues important to their single interest donors such as large oil companies that have a stake in polluting the environment. This distorts the relative importance of issues central to the people like environmental regulations or equal distribution of wealth.
Thus, excessive wealth and unequal speaking power in Congress results in the top 1% influencing laws that affect the bottom 99%. According to Lessig, this is “money in the wrong place.” As corporations make “gift exchanges” to members of Congress, the people who often benefit are CEOs, lobbyists and Congress members, effectively disenfranchising the middle and lower classes.
This is why many Americans believe that money brokering directly buys results in Congress, leading to the people’s loss of trust in an institution they believe no longer serves them. These citizens are left dazed and disconnected from the political process as Congress is incapable of effectively addressing issues important to the people while working in these distorted, corrupt conditions. Environmental abuse, ignorant economic policies, and corporate-led energy regulations are the results of Congress’ inability to act on important issues due to dependency corruption.
Learn more about dependency corruption by watching Lessig’s Ted Talk: