Woodrow Wilson explains the problem with voting and money in politics from a hundred years ago.
“All over the Union people are coming to feel that they have no control over the course of affairs. I live in one of the greatest States in the union, which was at one time in slavery. Until two years ago we had witnessed with increasing concern the growth in New Jersey of a spirit of almost cynical despair. Men said: ‘We vote; we are offered the platform we want; we elect the men who stand on that platform, and we get absolutely nothing.’ So they began to ask: ‘What is the use of voting? We know that the machines of both parties are subsidized by the same persons, and therefore it is useless to turn in either direction.’
“This is not confined to some of the state governments and those of some of the towns and cities. We know that something intervenes between the people of the United States and the control of their own affairs at Washington. It is not the people who have been ruling there of late.
“Why are we in the presence, why are we at the threshold, of the revolution? Because we are profoundly disturbed by the influences which we see reigning in the determination of our public life and our public policy. There was a time when America was blithe with self-confidence. She boasted that she, and she alone, knew the processes of popular government; but now she sees her sky overcast; she sees that there are at work forces which she did not dream of in her hopeful youth.
“Here, for example, is the old question of campaign funds: If I take a hundred thousand dollars from a group of men representing a particular interest that has a big stake in a certain schedule of the tariff, I take it with the knowledge that those gentlemen will expect me not to forget their interest in that schedule, and that they will take it as a point of implicit honor that I should see to it that they are not damaged by too great a change in that schedule. Therefore, if I take their money, I am bound to them by a tacit implication of honor. Perhaps there is no ground for objection to this situation so long as the function of government is conceived to be to look after the trustees of prosperity, who in turn will look after the people; but on any other theory than that of trusteeship no interested campaign contributions can be tolerated for a moment, –save those of the millions of citizens who thus support the doctrines they believe and the men whom they recognized as their spokesmen.
“I tell you the men I am interested in are the men who, under the conditions we have had, never had their voices heard, who never got a line in the newspapers, who never got a moment on the platform, who never had access to the ears of Goernors or Presidents or of anybody who was responsible for the conduct of public affairs, but who went silently and patiently to their work every day carrying the burden of the world. How are they to be understood by the masters of finance, if only the masters of finance are consulted?
That is what I mean when I say, “Bring the government back to the people.” I do not mean anything demagogic; I do not mean to talk as if we wanted a great mass of men to rush in and destroy something. That is not the idea. I want the people to come in and take possession of their own premises; for I hold that the government belongs to the people, and that they have a right to that intimate access to it which will determine every turn of its policy.”
Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 1/The Old Order Changeth.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 27-28. Print.
Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 3/Freemen Need No Guardians.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 75-77. Print.