The view that American politics merely represents politicians bowing to the will of big money is unpopular among political scientists, to a degree that I find somewhat surprising. Thomas Ferguson, however, is an exception to this trend and he leans all the way in the other direction:
People who were hailing Obama as a new FDR were viewing American politics through the wrong lens. They were treating public policy as the result of the will of voters. But in fact, American political parties are mostly bank accounts. What you are told is the voice of the people is usually the sound of money talking.
Much of my research has been devoted to showing how both parties are dominated by blocs of large investors. The policy choices political parties present to the public on Social Security, macroeconomic policy, campaign finance reform, and indeed nearly every other policy area save a handful of hot-button “social issues” are basically dominated by big money. The consequences are disastrous: Neither party can level with the American people in crises. They cannot diagnose problems like the financial crisis with any honesty and they can’t make any detailed case for why the policies they do sponsor would actually benefit ordinary Americans. What we get instead are pseudo-explanations, myths, and sometimes, obvious mendacity. Political discussions in the media, where they are not distorted by the plain interests of the concerns themselves, are dominated by denizens of the “think tank” and “policy institute” world. Most of these institutions are heavily driven by, surprise, surprise, big money in the form of donors.
I think these conclusions are more plausibly reached through something more like Marx’s account of ideology or Lindblom’s “Privileged Position of Business in Polyarchy.” Political and media elites crave the esteem of business elites over and above their desire for their money.