Follow the Money

The Hallway

by Julia Schreder

Originally published February 21st, 2017 in the Weston Forum.

As a student, I have a particular vested interest in President Trump’s Secretary of Education — Betsy DeVos. Should I choose to attend one of the three federally funded public universities that I have been accepted to next fall, my education could very well be impacted by the initiatives and policies of Secretary DeVos.

Not to mention, Weston schools are public and subject to federal mandates. So this is a matter that should not only concern me, but also my peers and anyone who has children in our school system.

That is why I was incredibly disheartened and disappointed when DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education last Tuesday, Feb. 7. Her lack of public education experience and the dismal results of her advocacy work in Michigan, coupled with her poor performance in her confirmation hearing and her now infamous “grizzly bear” comment, are reasons enough for apprehension on their own.

But what alarms me the most about DeVos is that she is a billionaire whose family has donated more than $200 million to right-wing causes, contributing to at least 22 sitting Republican senators’ campaigns, who all voted to confirm her despite strong constituent opposition. Additionally, Devos’s brother gave at least $100,000 to a pro-Trump super-PAC during the 2016 election.

These figures speak directly to the corrosive influence of money on our governmental institutions, and Trump supporters ought to be most outraged by them. After all, wasn’t one of Trump’s central campaign promises to “drain the swamp”? By placing yet another oligarch in his cabinet, Trump has directly betrayed his supporters, expanding the swamp rather than draining it.

Last year, I had the privilege of interviewing Jack Abramoff, disgraced lobbyist caught in a scandal in 2004 involving the defrauding of his Native American tribe clients and related bribery and corruption of public officials. After his stint in prison, Abramoff has worked to reform the lobbying process. One of the things he currently is working toward is imposing term limits on members of Congress. This, he contends, will make it harder for lobbyists or other interest groups to “buy” a member of Congress because it provides less opportunity for lobbyists to influence legislators.

I think that this idea is very relevant, especially in light of the DeVos confirmation, which has made it even clearer that money is still a driving force in U.S. politics. Despite thousands of calls and emails Republican senators received from constituents, all but two voted to confirm DeVos. Ignoring the voices of the people, they voted, instead, according to the money they had received.

The insidious presence of money in politics needs to be abolished because it diminishes the purpose of a representative democracy. If our elected representatives prioritize money over what their constituents want, then they are not doing their jobs. I can’t say that I have a definitive solution to this problem, but I think that imposing term limits on members of Congress would be a strong, positive start.

Of course I am not happy about the confirmation of Betsy DeVos. But perhaps it is time to start examining why DeVos was confirmed rather than focusing on the results themselves. Now we must begin to push for reform in the way money influences our legislators.

The Hallway is a weekly column written on a rotating basis by Weston High School students.

By the way: the title of this piece comes from a common quote of one of my favorite teachers, Mr. Moeder, who I take AP Gov with. Credit where credit is due. Here he is: Graduation 6/13/16

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