We are more than a week removed from the 2018 midterm elections, and basically everything to be said about the electoral side of things has been said. What was projected to be a “blue wave” for the Democratic party did not quite come to fruition. While the Democrats were able to flip enough seats to take back the House of Representatives, their majority is slim and, in the process, they lost two valuable seats in the Senate. Despite receiving a significant amount of criticism following the 2016 presidential election, the polls and prognosticators reaffirmed their legitimacy this time around.

Much was made of the gains of female candidates in the midterms as women were declared the real winners of the election. One notable female victor was Michigan’s now Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer. Furthermore, Representative-elect Ilhan Omar of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional district and Representative-elect Rashida Tlaib of Michigan’s 13th Congressional district made history by becoming the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.

And while female political empowerment is certainly a cause for celebration, now that we have had a week to bask in said victories, it is important that we turn our attention to something a little more unsavory. This cycle saw an unprecedented amount of money funneled into it. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, these midterm congressional campaigns cost a staggering $5.2 billion.

And while it is true that many campaigns — such as unsuccessful Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for Senate — were able to raise huge sums of money primarily through small-scale donors and contributions, to ignore the influence of the oligarchy in propping up candidates and pushing them to the finish line would be foolish. The simple fact is that far too much of this money came from far too few people. The super PACs that the vast majority of Americans oppose are more influential than ever. In the month of October alone, the 10 highest-funded super PACs for each of the two major political parties raised a combined $174 million.

The disproportionate impact of billionaires was also in full force during this election cycle. While I normally direct my criticism towards the Republican Party, this election cycle proved that both major parties are completely bought and sold. Plutocrats drive the agenda, and I can prove it.

One example of this occurred in Tennessee. GOP mega-donor Charles Koch poured $5 million of his own money into the coffers of Trump-loyalist U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s campaign for Senate in Tennessee. Maybe he was just really excited by her campaign. Or maybe he wants a piece of the corporate tax cuts and the repeal of the estate tax for which she has advocated for so long.

On the Democratic side, a particularly egregious example of electoral manipulation during this cycle by the ultra-rich took place in Nevada, in regards to what was known as “Question 3.” The proposal asked voters whether or not they would want a constitutional amendment requiring lawmakers to pass measures in an attempt to establish a competitive, free market for energy. Investor Warren Buffett, one of the richest men on Earth, shelled out $63 million through Nevada Energy to wage a propaganda campaign against the passing of the proposal. His motives could not have been clearer.

Buffett is the owner of Nevada Energy, which is the current monopoly supplier of electricity in the state. A man worth a whopping $86 billion was hellbent on protecting his profit margins at all costs — at the expense of the general public. He could not accept the prospect of Nevadians potentially seeing their energy costs go down, so he put up an ungodly amount of cash to ensure that didn’t happen. Here’s the worst part — he got his way.

The disproportionate influence of those of astronomical means on our political system is nothing short of a disgrace. It is an affront to democratic ideals and the idea of  “one person, one vote.” While all of-age citizens — who aren’t convicted felons or being actively suppressed by racist voter ID and registration laws — have the right to voice their opinion at the ballot box, we must reckon with the fact that we are only given a choice within the confines of what the super-rich find acceptable. We might play the game, but they make the rules.

Now that the elections are over, it is incumbent upon all Americans to work to hold elected officials’ feet to the fire. One way to do this is to make sure they are accountable to the people, and not their mega-donors. We have to bring campaign finance reform to the forefront if we wish to salvage democracy and respect the popular will.

Elias Khoury can be reached at ekhoury@umich.edu.


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