Deep pockets becoming our masters
Abraham Lincoln wished for us a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” 150 years ago.
Are we there yet? No — and going the opposite direction. Government of, by and for the corporations describes our situation far better.
Consider the Supreme Court’s decisions in the Citizens United and McCutcheon suits against the Federal Election Commission. They gutted already weak rules designed to keep democracy in the electoral process. The law of the land now allows massive anonymous donations to influence our elections.
Clearly, the suits’ sponsors wanted us to think they were ordinary citizens like us, but “Citizens United” is only a theater mask. Neither I nor the overwhelming majority of Americans would ever need to win a lawsuit in order to spend freely on politics: our economic situations cut us off far, far below the bygone FEC limits.
Only people with deep pockets who want to control our elections anonymously needed those suits.
Further, a majority of Americans in a January 2010 Gallup poll felt it important to limit campaign spending.
By June 2013, the share favoring limits had risen to 79 percent. Half went further to say they favored public financing of campaigns. It was not the money of we the people behind those suits.
Why was removing limits important to them? Simple — to have more influence. Why was anonymity important to them? Again simple — to hide their motives in future actions.
How will those Supreme Court decisions affect the quality of government? Law professor Lawrence Lessig’s wonderful book, “Republic, Lost,” describes the relationship between lawmakers and their sponsors as a dance; some action (perhaps campaign support) benefiting the lawmaker tends to increase the likelihood that he or she will support legislation favoring the sponsor.
Both benefit, so the dance continues round by round.
Lessig sees very little actual bribery in that practice (and I see it as similar to social bonding), yet he details many ways it corrupts Congress.
Here’s the rub: the influence of the lawmaker’s constituents is reduced by whatever degree the dance skews, even subconsciously, his/her perspective toward the benefactor. And money sources exert pressure — direct and indirect — in framing the public debate, setting the Congressional agenda and at every checkpoint a bill must pass to become law.
Will lobbyists use that money to push legislation that we the people want? Don’t count on it!
When a Gallup poll asked “What is the most important problem facing the country today?” the peoples’ and lobbyists’ answers could hardly be more different.
— The People’s top five concerns combined won 75 percent of their votes vs. 33 percent of the Lobby’s.
— The Lobby’s top five concerns combined won 56 percent of their votes vs. 11 percent of the People’s.
— The Lobby’s No. 1 priority (Health) scored 21 percent vs. 9 percent.
— The People’s No. 1 priority (Law Crime and Family Policy) scored 22 percent vs. 5 percent.
Insurance industry terror that the Affordable Care Act would reduce their profits is easy to detect in the Lobby’s top concern. The closest that People and Lobby came together (education) still left more than a 2:1 gap between them. The Lobby industry does not work for our benefit.
I suspect that it matters to you as it does to me that individuals and groups with vast stores of money don’t want us able to sight down the timeline and see where they plan to take us.
Let’s look at the hypothetical example of a parents’ group and Monsanto. Both have opinions about genetically modified food, but we would know immediately that their motives are entirely different.
The “best government money can buy” has nothing whatever to do with good government.
In 2009 — when there were limits — lobbyists already spent $6.5 million per legislator. Even then, your voice and mine were dim in the same arena with corporations and wealthy people and political action committees.
Enter Citizens United and McCutcheon, freeing those deep pockets to manipulate legislation favorable to them even more aggressively — public interest be damned.
That’s a hallmark of governments we have sharply criticized, as in Iraq, Libya, Syria and other countries. Do we really want to be like them?
Our Thirteenth Amendment prohibits slavery, but think what slavery is: the compulsion to do the bidding of people we have no influence over.
Deep pockets are becoming our masters, pushing laws that give them a still greater advantage and erecting an interlocking structure of laws and rulings to seal off challenges to their control. Let’s stop that degradation now, before the only recourse is rebellion.
Frederick Hall lives in Grass Valley.
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