Many progressives assume that removing money (such as campaign donations from corporations) from politics will clean things up, but that is not necessarily so.
Consider India, where in 1967 prime minister Indira Gandhi outlawed corporate contributions to political campaigns. Unfortunately, this removed one of the few legal (and transparent) methods of financing political races. Instead, a network of corrupt patronage and favor-swapping from individual donors became established. For example, politicians started receiving massive kickbacks from defense and infrastructure contracts.
The law set public campaign contributions so low, that politicians turned to so-called “unaccounted” funds, which largely means money from criminals. In fact, many of the candidates are criminals themselves, who dole out their ill-gotten money in return for votes.
More than a third of the candidates in a recent election were facing criminal charges, including for murder, rape, kidnapping, and extortion. Many of these criminals win their elections. Of the 545 members of India’s lower house in Parliament, 162 have criminal charges against them.
Of course, India is not the US, but there is still a lesson here. I’m not sure if campaign finance reform will solve the problem, since people will always find ways to get around the law to get money. I think a better first step would be to allow unlimited donations (even from corporations), but enforce complete transparency.
All money used for political purposes, whether for political campaigns, political parties, or even just issue advocacy, should be publicly traceable to the donors. In addition, the Government Accounting Office should publish information for each bill, detailing who will benefit from the bill and how much money they have spent on political activities. It will be like race cars, which bear the stickers identifying their sponsors.
It may be impossible to eliminate money in politics, so the next best thing would be to make it transparent.