If you’re historically savvy—or if you took MSS 220—you know what the payola scandal is. If not, here’s a quick synopsis: In the 1950s and early 1960s, shortly after the notorious television game show scandals, the U.S. government began cracking down on payola in the music industry. In simple terms, payola occurs when a music company offers money or other gifts in exchange for airtime—a company pays a disc jockey, and, in exchange for the payment, the disc jockey ensures airtime for the music company’s artist.
The government’s decision to enact stiffer regulations—and prosecute those who partook in payola—appears morally self-explanatory: A free market necessitates fair play by all parties and putting an end to payola, at least in the music industry, aided the creation of a (and this is debatable) free market.
Now what’s good for one, should be good for all—if a crackdown against corruption occurs in the music industry, a crackdown on corruption should continue throughout the capitalist system. History tells a different story.
During the payola scandal, government officials appeared to view bribery as intolerable and unjust; statutory law must punish those who cheat the system. With a limited understanding of the American political system, however, an average citizen can deduce the inherent irony lingering within the situation; what’s good for the music industry should also be good for the political system. Monetary inducement—if ruled unethical in one system—should be ruled unethical in the other.
Now before you grab your torches and come to burn down my house, let me say this: I know laws exist barring politicians from receiving blatant “quid pro quo” bribes, and yes, politicians are prosecuted when suspected of bribery (just take Mr. Bob Menendez from my great home state of New Jersey, for example). The cases, however, occur far too infrequently for the amount of monetary persuasion occurring within the upper levels of American politics.
More specifically, the campaign finance system offers an apparent avenue for personal and corporate interests to interfere with national policy. After the landmark Supreme Court case, Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Committee, the Supreme Court offered personhood to corporate entities—corporations were now people who deserved to have their voices heard, and, in politics, nothing speaks louder than money. To suggest corporate donations do not direct, guide, or coerce political agendas is fallacious, and suggesting anything different undervalues the American system of government.
If government officials—like the ones who wore the guise of ethical enlightenment during the payola scandals in the 50s—treat acts of monetary persuasion outside of the political system as infringements on American law, then acts of monetary persuasion, or a system that allows it, within the political system should also be dismantled or reformed.
What is good for one is good for all—if one wants equity elsewhere, they must first find equity within the system they reside. Do not repair what you have failed to fix.