A New Era of Moneyed Politics

Mar 25, 2011 No Comments

By Daniel Osborn

Over a century ago, Progressives recognized the importance of limiting the influence of corporations and special interests in our politics. But for more than a century before that, corporations with shallow interests and deep pockets dominated the political giving landscape and essentially drowned out the multitude of voices who lacked the same ability to buy political influence.  Progressive reform, however, brought an end to big corporate influence in politics, and allowed for the diversification of represented interests in Washington.  For the first time in American history, average hard-working Americans were able to compete on a fair playing field with those corporations who had drowned them out for more than a century.

Until a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court had always recognized the importance of protecting our democracy, and had repeatedly affirmed decisions made by voters to control the political spending of such corporations.  In its most recent decision, however, the Court overturns a century of solid precedent and delivers a devastating blow to our democracy.  By overruling portions of the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Act, the Court has, in the words of President Obama, “open[ed] the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections.”

The 2008 election was perhaps most remarkable for its pioneering fundraising.  Small donors dominated the political giving landscape. Ultimately, 2008 became a model for future elections in which the average voter would dominate.  And yet, just as we began to embark upon a revolution in the way politics operates, the Supreme Court stepped in to stymie the growing voice of the average American individual.

The Court seems to instead prefer a system in which any large corporation can spend unlimited amounts of money in any race of their choosing, from president on down to city councilmember.  Exxon, for example, can now choose to spend $2 million against any member of Congress that supports energy reform.  Banks opposed to new financial reform can now drop untold millions against any candidate that supports fixing our dangerous financial institutions.  And, while unions also have these same rights under the new ruling, it is widely acknowledged that they are powerless to match corporate spending.

If, however, Congress acts quickly, we still have an opportunity to preserve a democracy in which everyone participates. Congress could bar corporations with government contracts from political giving, or they could mandate shareholder approval of a corporation’s political expenditures.  Congress could even require that a corporation’s chief executive appear in the ad to approve it in the same manner that a candidate must appear at the end of his or her ad.  But before corporations can begin to buy our legislators in the next election cycle, we need to urge Congress to pass new campaign finance reform right now.  If we do not act quickly, we will lose our opportunity to take a stand against corporate democracy as they begin to once again buy off our political system in the run-up to the next election.  We need to let Congress know that we are a nation of individuals, and that we will not stand idly by while corporate democracy once again cements itself in an undeserved position of privilege.

Spring 2010

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