Political Panhandling and the Reproduction of the Two-Party State

One of my favorite regular features at The Think 3 Institute are Sam Wilson's commentaries on, and analyses of, fundraising letters from the professional panhandlers in the Democratic and Republican parties. This week, in a post entitled "Competitive Codependency: the Bipolarchy Begs," Sam juxtaposes specimens from Sharron Angle and Nancy Pelosi:
Two begging letters arrived in my mailbox yesterday. One was from Sharron Angle, who somewhat defensively, as if anticipating a dispute, dubs herself the "Official Republican Nominee for U.S. Senate Against Harry Reid." . . . The other begging letter came from Nancy Pelosi, with a cover letter from Barney Frank. The Speaker of the House is writing on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Sam concludes:
each side accuses the other of being dominated by "special interest" donors, and this is one of those happy cases when both sides are right, or both wrong, depending on whether any American has the right to call any other a "special interest." . . . together they demonstrate how perpetual competition enriches both pillars of the American Bipolarchy. The Republicans must have money because the Democrats have more, and the more Republicans raise, the more Democrats need. This money fuels the permanent fundraising machines both parties operate . . . and the people who operate these machines are the principal beneficiaries of campaign donations. Arguably, both major parties exist today primarily as fundraising machines, pitching their opposition in extreme terms to maximize donations by making the need for them appear more urgent.
In his analysis of Angle's letter, Sam touches on a point I've been meaning to address for some time now, but haven't broached yet here at Poli-Tea. He writes:
I thought the likes of her were all for federalism and states' rights. Why, then, is this person who seeks to represent the state of Nevada asking for donations from a New Yorker? The mere request proves that in her own mind she doesn't represent her state as much as she does a party or an ideological movement.
One can credibly generalize this basic critique to cover the Democratic-Republican ruling establishment and political class in its entirety. Almost 100% of Democratic and Republican lawmakers receive more than half of their funding from donors outside of their districts. Consider these findings from a 2008 study by MapLight, a non-partisan, non-profit research group that tracks the "connection between money and politics":
Representatives raised $700 million in campaign funds from January 2005 - December 2007. $551 million of these funds, or 79%, came from out-of-district. $146 million of these funds, or 21%, came from in-district. The remaining $3 million of campaign funds (0.5%) could not be definitively located as in-district or out-of-district . . in other words, legislators raised about four out of every five dollars in campaign funds from outside of where their constituents live.
Though this is not especially surprising, the numbers are still rather startling. From the same study:
• For 99% of U.S. House members (418 out of 421), Washington, DC was among their top 5 contributing states. . . .

• Almost all House members, 97%, raised more than half of their funds from outside their congressional districts.

• Five House members raised 99% or more of their funds from outside their congressional districts.

• Only 13 House members, or 3%, raised most of their funds from within the district where their voters live . . .

• Washington, DC, is the top location for contributors; it is the source of $146,807,711, which is 21% of all contributions.

• For 99% of U.S. House members (418 out of 421), Washington, DC was among their top 5 contributing states.

• For 19% of U.S. House members (81 out of 421), Washington, DC was their number one contributing state.

• Washington, DC, with only 0.2% of the U.S. population, has fewer residents than every state except Wyoming.

It is no accident that our representatives do not represent our interests. It is not in their financial interests.

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