Mark Greenberg likes guns. He thinks owning one is a right, and he won’t compromise on it. That’s fine with me; he can think what he wants. The problem is that Greenberg wants to be the representative for Connecticut’s fifth congressional district —the district where, two years ago, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook elementary school and shot and killed twenty children and six adults with an AR-15 assault rifle.
Greenberg wants to speak on those families’ behalf. And if we let him, he very well might defeat Elizabeth Esty, the Democratic incumbent who has taken her constituents’ voices to heart in fighting for reform as the Vice-Chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.
I hope you’ll agree that there is something deeply wrong with this. How is electing Greenberg even a possibility? The answer is simple: He has a lot of money. Between $65 and $250 million dollars of it, to be precise. Greenberg, a real-estate mogul, is financing his own campaign and has pledged to spend “whatever it takes to win.” He has spent $3 million of his own money in two failed bids for his district’s Republican nomination in the past, and he doesn’t apologize for seeing a seat in Congress as something up for sale. His only question is how much it will cost.
This is what happens when money and politics mix without restraint: Our representatives stop being representatives and start being oligarchs. But this is increasingly what has happened across the country in the wake of Citizens United, as the gulf between the ultra-rich and the rest of us continues to widen. Money is concentrated in the hands of a small number of people, and it is becoming easier and easier to turn that money into political power.
Greenberg has been pouring money into his own campaigns for years — thus, his candidacy is not directly a product of Citizens United. Rather, it is a warning about what American politics will look like in the very near future if we continue to give power to the highest bidder.
It’s an ugly picture. There is no empathy, no emotional connection in Greenberg’s politics. He has said that we need to “separate emotion from the law.” This makes it all the more appalling that he wants to represent the families of Newtown’s victims: It seems he thinks their grief is irrelevant to this country’s laws. Greenberg seems to think his job is not to care.
Democracy is supposed to be a check on attitudes like this. If the people speaking for us don’t care about us, we can get rid of them. But this only works when we don’t allow money to distort our perceptions. In the long run, this will mean rethinking the role of money in the way we choose our leaders. In the short run, it means electing Elizabeth Esty and rejecting an unfeeling brand of politics driven by cash for an empathetic one driven by people.
Money and politics will never be entirely separate, nor should they be. For candidates, spreading a message and telling people what you have to say is as vital as it is expensive. It’s hard to say exactly how much money is too much to allow into politics — but you don’t have to draw a clear line to see when someone has long since crossed it.
David Whipple is a junior in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.