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Democracy is not for sale

Chomo on Democracy Now the other day said:

Just take a look at the funding for his campaign. I mean, the final figures haven’t come out, but we have preliminary figures, and it seems to be mostly financial institutions. I mean, the financial institutions preferred him to McCain. They are the main funders for both—you know, I mean, core funders for both parties, but considerably more to Obama than McCain.

There are a couple of ways of taking this. Usually, this kind of claim gets transformed into a claim that the majority of Obama’s funding came from financial institutions, and thus he’s been “bought.” This claim is, as far as I know, not true. The largest single organiztion collecting contributions for Obama’s compaign was actually the University of California; the second largest was Goldman Sachs, but Goldman’s fundraising efforts only contributed a little bit under a million dollars out of the $750 million the campaign collected.

This actually seems pretty understandible, because the idea that state power is bought by capitalists doesn’t really make sense: it’s already their state, so why would they spend money trying to acquire what they already control (if there’s one thing finance capital knows, its how to make a profitable investment). As is so often the case, the supposedly cynical position is actually a way of maintaining ones illusions: if the problem is the corruption of democracy by money, then there’s nothing essentially wrong with the institutions of American democracy. In fact, the situation is much worse than the cynics imagine, because capitalist control of the state is not “corruption”; it’s an essential (in fact, intentional) feature of the structure of bourgeois democracy.

The other way of interpreting the data on campaign contributions is somewhat more interesting, that we might look on these sums of money not as attempts to buy influence, but as expressions of support by different factions of capital, kind of like a very expensive bumper sticker.