"If policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy...."
— Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, political scientists
"The reality is we that have a corrupt campaign finance system which separates the American people's needs and desires from what Congress is doing. So to my mind, what we have got to do is wage a political revolution where millions of people have given up on the political process, stand up and fight back, demand the government that represents us and not just a handful of campaign contributors...."
— Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT)
"Legislative action will never bring genuine campaign-finance reform. Consultants will prove endlessly inventive in gaming whatever system the reformers can devise so as to give their candidate an edge and allow the power of massive money to be felt. But reform laws will become irrelevant and redundant as the Internet replaces the special-interest fat cats as the best way to raise money and takes the place of TV as the most effective way to get votes...."
— Dick Morris, author/political consultant
"There are two things that are important in politics: Money, and I can't remember what the second one is..."
— Mark Hanna, Gilded Age fixer/politician
Complaints about the influence of money in politics have been around since....well, forever. In ancient Rome, campaigning for political office was expensive, and bribery — both direct and indirect — was common. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, money more or less disappeared from Europe, but with its return in the Middle Ages, the connection between money and politics reemerged with a vengeance, leading no less a personage than Lorenzo the Magnificent, Machiavelli's patron, to adopt as his motto: "Money to get the power, power to keep the money."
America's founders had conflicting views about the role of money in politics. In 1787, Madison conceded "that the chief danger in a republic was the likelihood that a majority of poor men would pass laws that penalized the rich and undermined the nation’s stability," while Thomas Jefferson, thirty years later, declared that the "end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations (sic)." In the 1830s, a period of growing factionalization in American politics, Alexis de Tocqueville was surprised to find that "the wealthy classes of United States society stand entirely outside politics and that wealth, far from being an advantage, has become a real source of unpopularity and an obstacle to the achievement of power." One Gilded Age and three-quarters of a century later, President Teddy Roosevelt found it necessary to declare that "laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes."
In our own time, the post-Watergate zeal for tougher campaign finance laws has given way to a post-Citizens United environment in which corporations and associations are accorded the same right to political speech as individuals and most limits on money in politics, corporate or otherwise, have been obliterated.
With the quid-pro-quo nature of politics more evident than ever and public trust in government at close to all-time lows, organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice, with the support of foundations across the country, are working to advance reforms that would reduce the influence of corporations and individual mega-donors in our politics and give "ordinary voters a far louder voice." As the infographic below shows, foundation funding for those efforts totaled nearly $94 million from 2011 to 2016 and included grants from established national funders like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, as well as newer funders such as Omidyar Network, the philanthropic vehicle created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.