Despite such a daunting scenario, a vocal band of activists has not surrendered hope -- quite the opposite, in fact. They are pushing stronger than ever before so a new day might dawn on American polity; even though this amounts to pushing a giant boulder up the highest Smoky mountain.
Josh Silver: The undue influence of special interests has greatly exacerbated political polarization. Political campaigns have become so costly that candidates are dependent on millionaires, billionaires, and deep pocketed lobbyists. Most of those donors do not give out of love of country. They give because they want very specific policies advanced or blocked, and they tend to be more extreme in their political views than the average members of their parties. When politicians take their money, they know that they must not compromise on those policies. If they do, at best they will lose funding. At worst, their mega-donors will fund their opponent in the next election.
Cotto: The Citizens United ruling led millions of Americans to become nervous about the influence money plays in politics. With each passing year, however, these fears seem likelier to go unassuaged as the prospect of overturning Citizens United becomes dimmer. Do you think that special interests in both major parties are to blame for this, or does responsibility fall more on one side than the other?
Silver: First, overturning Citizens United has always been a long-term fight, with hundreds of resolutions at the state and local levels reshaping the debate and pressuring the legislative and judicial branches. Second, we would be naive to think that either major political party will seriously address the undue influence of money in politics.
Cotto: Nowadays, there is a near-total lack of congressional bipartisanship on big issues. Special interests played a huge role in creating this situation. Nonetheless, as less sausage on Capitol Hill is being made, how does that turn of events benefit those same interests?
Silver: While polarization is rampant, there remains strong bipartisan support for the biggest spenders in Washington. Fifty companies spent more than $716 million lobbying the federal government in 2016. The five biggest spenders, in descending order, were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Realtors, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the American Hospital Association and the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America.