Support independent, student-run journalism.

Your support helps give staff members from all backgrounds the opportunity to conduct meaningful reporting on important issues at Stanford. All contributions are tax-deductible.

Editorial: Stop the brain drain? Campaign finance and conflicting career messages

On Feb. 6, 2012, President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign announced that Obama would start to publicly back Priorities USA, a super-PAC run by former Obama aides.  Obama, an outspoken critic of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United that opened the floodgates for special interest influence, was criticized by some for his reversal of position, accused of both betraying his ideals and relinquishing a distinction he could make between himself and candidates who have readily embraced super-PAC funding. Furthermore, Obama disappointed the Editorial Board, by preaching one message – go into less lucrative careers where you can make a social impact – and practicing another with his personal decision to opt in to a wealth-driven campaign funding mechanism.

 

The campaign’s decision was framed as necessary and pragmatic, a painful concession as Obama needed to play by the new rules in order to stay in the running in an election that has seen enormous amounts of money spent on negative attack ads. Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, wrote in an email to supporters that the “stakes are too important to play by two different sets of rules. If we fail to act, we concede this election to a small group of powerful people intent on removing the president at any cost.”

 

Obama’s recent visit to the Bay Area further underscored the current state of political fundraising: there were no free public events, with tickets to a Masonic Center speech starting at $25 and private events costing up to $35,800 a person. These fundraising decisions are certainly not unique to Obama. Mitt Romney’s super-PAC has over $16 million waiting to be spent and Newt Gingrich largely hosted private events during his recent Bay Area visit. Yet Obama’s outspoken critiques of the corrupting influence of money on politics makes his super-PAC move more unexpected and disappointing than similar decisions by his rivals.

 

The justification for the campaign’s decision – hold on to your ideals until they become politically risky, and then sacrifice them for pragmatic concerns – leaves us as students in a difficult position when faced with similar decisions on a smaller-scale, decisions about whether to act in line with our ideals or to make pragmatic concessions. Furthermore, the current state of campaign financing, where wealthy individuals and corporations exert an unlimited financial influence on the outcome of a campaign, undermines the exhortations made by Obama and other political leaders to pursue careers in public service – exhortations that Obama has commendably backed up with increased support for AmeriCorps and a Social Innovation Fund to grow community-based service programs.Yet these programs lose their potency when wealth becomes closely associated with political efficacy.

 

On the one hand, we are encouraged to nurture and retain an idealistic spirit about the impact we can make on our country. We are told to stop the brain drain, to turn down Goldman Sachs for Greenpeace, and not to pursue a career based on the paycheck or bonus we’ll be handed at the end of the year. But our present political climate forms a dark background for this message. Wealthy donors and wealthy corporations are granted an increasingly weighty share of political efficacy. So should we sacrifice our ideals and make a pragmatic decision to pursue a career with a paycheck that will lead to increased political influence in years to come?

 

The justification for the campaign’s decision – hold on to your ideals until they become politically risky, and then sacrifice them for pragmatic concerns – leaves us as students in a difficult position when faced with similar decisions on a smaller-scale, decisions about whether to act in line with our ideals or to make pragmatic concessions. Furthermore, the current state of campaign financing, where wealthy individuals and corporations exert an unlimited financial influence on the outcome of a campaign, undermines the exhortations made by Obama and other political leaders to pursue careers in public service – exhortations that Obama has commendably backed up with increased support for AmeriCorps and a Social Innovation Fund to grow community-based service programs.

 

Yet these programs lose their potency when wealth becomes closely associated with political efficacy. On the one hand, we are encouraged to nurture and retain an idealistic spirit about the impact we can make on our country. We are told to stop the brain drain, to turn down Goldman Sachs for Greenpeace, and not to pursue a career based on the paycheck or bonus we’ll be handed at the end of the year. But our present political climate forms a dark background for this message. Wealthy donors and wealthy corporations are granted an increasingly weighty share of political efficacy. So should we sacrifice our ideals and make a pragmatic decision to pursue a career with a paycheck that will lead to increased political influence in years to come?

 

Which train of thought is the confused sophomore or perplexed senior supposed to follow: the idealist optimism that one can eschew a lucrative paycheck for a low-paying career that one finds more socially meaningful, or cynical skepticism that choosing a lucrative career path will result in increased political efficacy? Of course, the choice is not always so stark – there are high-paying jobs that are satisfying and socially meaningful, and lower-paying jobs that may be morally repulsive – and a student could eventually have more influence as a lower-paid senator or congresswoman than as a wealthy hedge fund manager. Yet for students who are interested in making a social and political impact (for the two are inextricably intertwined), it is difficult to reconcile the small probability that we’ll exert political influence through activism or holding public office with the present reality that having a less lucrative career means that, in many respects, we’ll be sitting on the proverbial political sidelines.

 

In conclusion, though we commend Obama for his critiques of the present state of campaign finance, his concession to fundraise with a super-PAC for pragmatic reasons sends a discouraging message. We as students have become painfully aware that choosing a less lucrative career path may result in losing a degree of political efficacy in our present, wealth-driven political system.

While you're here...

We're a student-run organization committed to providing hands-on experience in journalism, digital media and business for the next generation of reporters.
Your support makes a difference in helping give staff members from all backgrounds the opportunity to develop important professional skills and conduct meaningful reporting. All contributions are tax-deductible.



















Editorial Board

Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Stanford Daily, an independent newspaper serving Stanford and the surrounding community. The Daily's Editorial Board consists of President and Editor-in-Chief Victor Xu '17, Executive Editor Will Ferrer '18, Managing Editor of Opinions Michael Gioia '17, Desk Editor of Opinions Jimmy Stephens '17, Senior Staff Writer Kylie Jue '17, Senior Staff Writer Olivia Hummer '17 and Senior Staff Writer Andrew Vogeley '17. To contact the Editorial Board chair, submit an op-ed (limited to 700 words) or submit a letter to the editor (limited to 500 words) at [email protected]