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The United States Capitol Building. (James Bradbury/CU Independent File)
The United States Capitol Building. (James Bradbury/CU Independent File)

Opinion: The great American oligarchy

Last week, researchers at Princeton and Northwestern released a report stating that the United States is no longer a democracy, but an oligarchy – a government whose power is held by a small group of people, rather than by the electorate.

The report analyzed some 1800 policies passed by Congress between 1981 and 2002 and confirmed that the majority acted in the interest of the nation’s economic elite rather than the average constituent. According to the study, special interest groups fund lobbyists who are far more instrumental in garnering votes for a bill than the voice of a regular citizen. In short, the document confirms what some Americans accepted years ago: Our government doesn’t actually give a shit about us.

Contrary to the ominous tone of the report, I don’t think corporate giants are going to become our supreme overlords anytime soon. I don’t see my children attending school at the Philip Morris Institute or checking into the Johnson & Johnson Hospital for a routine checkup. I believe it’s still well within our ability to take back the democratic ideals our founding fathers envisioned. But we need to act fast; otherwise it won’t be long before we open the Pandora’s box of corporations infringing on basic liberties.

First, whoever thought it was a good idea to marry the finances of economic elites with our politicians was probably the same individual who thought putting a gas tank under the bumper of the Ford Pinto was a viable option. Has anyone ever stopped to consider why lobbyists with access to billions of dollars are more influential to politicians than citizen interest groups with limited funds? I think it’s safe to assume that elected officials are far hungrier for a campaign funding check from oil companies than the heart-warming feeling of helping the environment. Isn’t it time we stopped allowing big businesses to fund the campaigns these crooked congressmen need to stay in their seats?

Further, we need to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a true popular vote. For James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, it made sense to want to limit the voice of the average citizen. At the time, many Americans couldn’t read and felt justified in owning other human beings as slaves. We’ve come a long way since then, and I see few reasons why the average American constituent is unable to choose representatives for themselves. Besides, it’s likely that the people you disagree with wouldn’t vote anyway – statistics indicate that only two out of five people voted for congresspeople in the last midterm election.

Which brings me to my final point: Go vote.

Considering the abysmal voter turnout rates aforementioned, it was only a matter of time before organizations with lots of money – and lots of reasons to want to sway congressional votes – started to infiltrate our government. Yet it surprises me that communities who have been repeatedly taken advantage of by their representatives still refuse to get off their asses and vote the instigators out of office. Consider Chester, Pa., where state officials allow for over 2 million tons of waste to be dumped every year, as opposed to the normal 1,400 tons in surrounding cities. If I lived in Chester, only the giant heaps of trash everywhere would keep me from being first in line to impeach someone and get the trash out of my backyard.

Much like wildfires, Smokey the Bear would advise that only YOU can prevent scumbags from getting into office. Representatives are called such for a reason; their job is to represent your best interests. Campaign financing and economic corruption aside, it’s still our responsibility, and within our power, to choose the people who affect our lives on a daily basis.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Samuel Schanfarber at

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