Wall Street Banks Shower Washington Politicians

I’m not a Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders supporter. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. Nearly 30 years ago I registered as a Green Party member and have been one ever since. As a person that politically leans to the progressive left, I would say I tend to agree more with Sanders than any of the other candidates running for president on both the Dem and Repug tickets.

Nonetheless, I will defend any and all candidates (Trump included) if they are being falsely attacked. The main reason why I do this is because I believe to end the divisive nature of political discourse we must seek to have a more honest dialogue. Sadly, false accusations seem to be a mainstay in American politics.

Recently, a friend of mine and a Hillary Clinton supporter, (whom I consider to be an honest and fair participant in political discourse,) took issue with a Sanders ad. He claimed the ad lacked any evidence to support its claims. Here is the complete text to the Sanders ad.

“Wall Street banks shower Washington politicians with campaign contributions and speaking fees. And what do they get for it? A rigged economy, tax-breaks, and bailouts. All held in place by a corrupt campaign finance system. And while Washington politicians are paid $200,000 an hour for speeches, they oppose raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. $200,000 for them, but not even 15 bucks an hour for all Americans. Enough is enough. I’m Bernie Sanders and I approve this message.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEv5zSF11q4

My friend responded to the above 30 second ad as follows.

“The ad commits the fallacy of BEGGING THE QUESTION! Claim X assumes X is true. Therefore, claim X is true. The statement presumes the WSB [Wall Street banks] gets something for the contributions and speaking fees. No evidence is offered to support the claim; no verifiable examples are cited”

In the comment thread, my friend goes on to state.

“Enough with epithets masquerading as evidence and accusations passing for arguments. It is time to put up or shut up! On this point, I don’t believe Senator Sanders or any of his allies and supporters have sufficient, competent evidential matter to do so. Evidence, logic, and truth matter – get real or get gone…I am saying the repeatedly insinuated quid pro quo has never been substantiated. Another name for the fallacy I cited is “ignoring the common cause.” All manner of people make generalized accusations, but I have rarely seen enough detail to discern the substance, much less, the veracity of the charge. The “revolving door” is a variation on the same thing…Having impact does not mean accepting bribes or whatever the Hell else the constant carping on speaking fees and contributions are meant to imply. I have had it with that trope. Sounds a lot like envy to me.”

In the above quotes, my friend is essentially suggesting two things. One, the Sanders ad “insinuated quid pro quo” or even that Clinton might be guilty of “accepting bribes”. (The ad actually never mentions Clinton). Two, there is no proven connection between the contributions given by  wealthy elites (like Wall Street Banks) and favorable government policies toward the rich, like the “rigged economy, tax breaks, and bailouts”.  

I’d like to address these two claims.

In a recent opinion piece in The Guardian, Trevor Timm gets right to the point. The Clinton supporters are falsely suggesting that critics of the billionaire donor system are  essentially insinuating a system of quid pro quos and bribery.  This, in fact, is the Clinton supporters own fallacious reasoning. Yes, Sanders suggests Wall Street banks are getting something in return for their donations in the ad. However, Sanders does not go so far as to suggest quid pro quos or bribes. What the Clinton supporters seem to be intentionally doing here is taking Sanders words out of context and twisting them. Sanders, and his supporters, are clearly making a more nuanced statement. Here is how Timm explains the Sanders position on this matter.

“Sure, even hardcore Sanders supporters will admit there is no evidence of direct quid pro quo when talking about large donations various parties made to the Clinton Foundation when Clinton was secretary of state. But it would be difficult not to worry about at least the potential for a conflict of interest, when weapons manufacturers and Saudi Arabia were making donations to the Clinton Foundation while their weapons deals were approved by the State Department, oil companies were doing the same before the State Department approved the oil sands pipeline project, and other fossil fuels donated at around the same time the secretary was advocating increased fracking abroad.

But of course there is no quid pro quo – that has never been the prime criticism of wealthy individuals using their vast resources to “buy” elections, push candidates in one direction, or influence office holders in much more subtle and nuanced ways than outright bribery.

And by taking this position that only quid pro quo equals corruption, Clinton supporters are essentially adopting the reasoning of the Roberts court that they claim to abhor – that unless there is direct evidence of overtly trading money for votes, corruption doesn’t exist.”


The fact is, political corruption does exist. However, wealthy corporate elites do not need to use illegal tactics like quid pro quos or to engage in bribery in order to influence government policies. That’s not how it works. Nor is that what the Sanders ad is claiming. Remember, Clinton’s name is not even mentioned in Sanders ad. Sanders ad was referring to the entire political system, not just one politician.  

The non-profit organization the Sunlight Foundation helps to explain the Sanders position, “(T)he question has always been: what do rich political donors get for their contributions? One argument is that these individuals are buying special favors, including ambassadorships and other prime posts.

And while one can find occasional examples of the above, to my mind the more convincing claim has always been the more subtle one: that relying so heavily on rich donors leads candidates to be more sympathetic to the general concerns of their donors.

To raise money from a bunch of rich investors is to also take the time to listen to a bunch of rich investors and what they think about tax and financial policy. And to keep the campaign donations coming requires a certain policy sensitivity to what these donors think.  It’s not so much a quid-pro-quo as it is a process of self-enlightened worldview osmosis.”

But the Sunlight Foundation doesn’t stop there. Like anyone truly trying to understand the mechanism behind the corporate corruption of our government, they turn to the Princeton studies by Martin Gilens.

So it’s good to read Martin Gilens’ excellent work showing convincingly that where rich people and poor people disagree on policy, the federal government pretty much always sides with the rich people.

What this shows that it doesn’t really matter what low-income or middle-income voters think about a policy. They might favor it. They might oppose it. It has no real effect on how likely the policy is to happen.

But among high-income individuals, there’s a clear pattern. If rich people are in favor, the policy is significantly more likely to become law. (The y-axis in both charts is logit regression coefficients. The coefficients translate into about a 65% increase in the probability of a policy passing when it goes from 0% to 100% support among rich people)




Martin Gilens’ is a Professor of Politics at Princeton University. His studies provide us with the empirical data that supports Sanders’ claims. If the Clinton supporters are actually looking for evidence, they need only look to Gilens.

My data cast further doubt on the notion that representational inequality arises from the greater knowledge or better judgment of those with higher incomes. If government responds not simply to the most affluent but to the most knowledgeable citizens, we would expect education to be a stronger moderator of the preference/policy link than income. In fact, I find the opposite: when both are taken into account, income is a far stronger determinant of influence over policy outcomes than is education.”


In 2014, Professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin I Page released a eyeopening study titled, Testing Theories of American Politics, Interest Groups and Average Citizens. The study concluded, “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.”

My Clinton and friends are emphatically stating Sanders and friends have no evidence to support their claims that Wall Street banks get favorable treatment for their contributions and paid speeches. However, the empirical evidence provided by the Princeton studies suggest otherwise. According to the data, tax cuts, bailout and a rigged economy are examples of that favoritism.

Wealthy elites do not have to demand a quid pro quo. Nor do they have to bribe their local politicians. They know that by simply financing the political campaigns of our elected officials the elites will gain all the access and influence they need to lend a sympathetic government ear to their best interests. And this simple guilt-free corrupt system has been working just fine for the politicians and corporate elites for decades now.

Yes, even after 7 years of the Obama presidency we still have a the rich Wall Street banks favored by a “rigged economy, tax cuts, and bailouts”. If Clinton supporters think anything will be different under a Clinton administration they are only kidding themselves. Meanwhile, they should stop smearing Sanders and his supporters with the false accusation that they are insinuating Clinton is engaging in illegal quid pro quos and bribery. That’s not what Sanders is saying in the ad and the Clinton supporters know it. On this issue, the Clinton supporters should either “get real or get gone.”  



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