December 14, 2015 by islandersvoice1
Big Money Controls Our Politics
By David Turnoy on 12/14/15
Here’s the grabber:
The more money you have, the more “speech” you can buy, giving you more power to control our politics. Is that how our system is supposed to work? It is, according to our Supreme Court.
Summary of article:
Supreme Court decisions have equated money with speech, enabling those with more money to buy more political advertising and contribute vast amounts of money to candidates and initiative campaigns. The court has also declared corporations to have the same rights as humans, enabling them to contribute huge sums of money as well. This has subverted our democratic system, enabling wealthy individuals and corporations to “purchase” candidates, governmental policy, and political outcomes. As a result, many representatives and senators represent their large donors’ interests, not the interests of their constituents, and the will of the people is not being carried out. Almost every problem we face today can be traced back to this fundamental unbalancing of our political process. Can anything be done to change this?
We all know that our political system is corrupted by money. Donald Trump said it best in the early August Republican debate. “I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what, when I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me. That’s a broken system.” As crazy and jaded as this man is, at least in this case he is saying what so many politicians are doing but won’t admit—taking money and giving political favors in return, often referred to as “pay to play”.
How did we get here? Way back in 1886 the Supreme Court said that the Constitution’s rights applied to corporations, basically stating that corporations are people. In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC, a case involving an entity called Citizens United that was making a derogatory video about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, that restricting political spending violates the First Amendment right of free speech. In addition, corporations are now able to contribute any of their funds, including their shareholders’ money, to political candidates and causes, providing an unlimited source of funds.
Subsequent cases have upheld the definition of free speech and expanded it to other circumstances. So we are now at a place where money is speech and corporations are people, perversions of common sense and sanity that have led to unlimited campaign contributions by individuals, corporations, and other entities. Some of these entities are SuperPacs, which can raise and spend unlimited funds; they must report the sources of their money eventually, but they can also have subsidiary organizations permitted to organize as “social welfare organizations” under section 501(c)(4) of the IRS code and never reveal their donors.
Other Dark Money groups such as the Chamber of Commerce don’t have to disclose their donors at any point, allowing corporate donors wishing to remain anonymous to use groups like the Chamber to buy attack ads with impunity.
What is the corroding effect of all this money? Elected officials spend more time fundraising and less time talking with voters and learning about issues important to them. And in many situations, these vast sums of donated money have led elected officials to work in favor of their large donors against the interests of a majority of their own constituents. Big money has corrupted our democracy.
Let’s look at a few examples. Most Americans think that capital gains should be taxed at the same rate as income, and most think the rich should pay more in taxes. Yet despite broad citizen opposition to the idea of lowering taxes on the wealthy, Congress has taken repeated action to lower the capital gains tax rate. Who benefits from a low capital gains tax rate? The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated that in 2012, the top 1 percent of households received 71 percent of all capital gains. These wealthier folks also happen to be the most likely donors to political campaigns. Of those who contribute more than $200 to a campaign, 85 percent have annual household incomes of $100,000 or more. An annual income of $100,000 puts a household in the top 20 percent of income earners—the same class that receives 94 percent of capital gains.
Several governors also provide good examples of this “pay to play”. In Florida, at the same time he spearheaded steep cuts to education, Governor Scott pushed substantial tax cuts for corporations. New Jersey Governor Christie championed cuts to public education while simultaneously rolling back a surtax on the state’s wealthiest households. In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett and his allies in the state legislature cut roughly $860 million from education funding while continuing to enact tax cuts for businesses. These governors catered to affluent donors and voters by cutting education funding, which benefits the general public, while cutting taxes for the wealthy, businesses, and/or corporations.
Our current system allows the wealthy and large business interests to contribute vast sums of money to politicians, many of whom then vote against the interests of the majority of their constituents in order to curry favor with the monied interests, as that is what these politicians feel they need to do in order to get reelected. If we are to have any chance to address economic inequality, if we are to have politicians representing us in office who will actually work for the good of the people, we must first address the inequality in political spending which benefits the wealthy few against the less affluent many.
What can be done? We must overturn the Citizens United line of cases. One way to overturn a Supreme Court decision is for a subsequent case to come before the court, giving the court the opportunity to overrule its previous decision; but until the court is made up of different members, this is not going to happen. Another change could be by way of a constitutional amendment. How is that accomplished? One way is to hold a constitutional convention, which has never been done. The other method, which has been used for all amendments except for the Bill of Rights, is for 2/3 of Congress to pass and ¾ of the states to ratify a measure stating that money is not speech, that corporations are not people, and that governments have the authority to regulate political spending and to require disclosure of contributions.
Currently there are sixteen states whose legislatures have passed measures with language similar to this. We don’t really expect Congress to vote for this amendment until the writing is on the wall with enough states behind it. Here in the state of Washington, our legislature has not been willing to pass such a measure, so we are forced to turn to a citizen initiative, i.e., a vote of the people. This requires gathering signatures to get the measure on the state ballot, then a majority of voters is needed to pass the measure, and finally the legislature should feel obligated to follow suit and pass the measure. A good example of how this can be done is in Colorado, where a statewide ballot initiative passed by a 74.0 percent majority of voters in November, 2012; in fact, it passed in every county in the state. The initiative instructed the state’s Congressional delegation to propose and support “an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that allows Congress and the states to limit campaign contributions and spending, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of wealth, can express their views to one another and their government on a level playing field.”
Move To Amend, a nationwide grassroots organization, has local affiliates in many states. In the state of Washington, Move to Amend has a committed group of volunteers, under the name of WAmend, gathering signatures all over the state. 250,000 signatures are needed by the end of 2015 to qualify for the November, 2016, ballot. WAmend’s goal is 330,000 [in case any signatures or petitions are invalidated] by Halloween. Almost halfway through September, having started the campaign on April 25, 140,000 signatures have been secured.
Can we get this initiative on the ballot? We need a lot more signatures in a limited amount of time, but anytime one is talking about a constitutional amendment, the road is quite challenging. If you are not already involved in the campaign, look online under WAmend or Move To Amend to find the closest local affiliate. You can also contact state organizer Tiffani McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved. If you are in San Juan County, contact David Turnoy at email@example.com or 376-4165. Whether you join up with a group or get petitions to have filled out on your own, your help is crucial. At the very least, make sure to sign a petition when you have the chance.
The effort to get big money out of politics may be the most important issue of our time. While climate change, income inequality, and institutional racism are hugely daunting problems, we can’t do anything serious about them until we get the bought-and-paid-for politicians out of the way and elect officials who will truly represent the people and do what needs to be done. If you want to be able to look your children and grandchildren in the eye and tell them you did everything you could to make a better society for them, help us win this constitutional amendment battle.
For good information on this issue, go to Reclaim the American Dream at http://reclaimtheamericandream.org/brief-amend/. To get motivated to help in the change we need, watch Hedrick Smith’s TED talk at this website.