We live in a democracy that is wed to capitalism. It offers us many advantages. Capitalism creates opportunity. If an individual is motivated and works hard he/she can succeed and build personal wealth. The entrepreneurial spirit drives technology and everyone benefits. However, if left unchecked, capitalism can develop excesses that can be detrimental. We are experiencing one of these excess situations currently and it is having a profound impact on our democracy. I am talking about the trend towards favorable treatment of corporations – tax laws, regulations, and court rulings, specifically “Citizens United”. This trend is powering a massive redistribution of wealth in the country; it is creating and nurturing a ‘financial elite’ class of citizenship.
Most would agree that money has a powerful influence on politics. Money is critical to any political campaign. It takes money to communicate a message and to build a campaign staff. So, not surprisingly, those with wealth (money) have the predominate influence on political outcomes. And, it does not end there. Politicians, in their quest for campaign money, are vulnerable to ‘quid pro quo’ arrangements – selling their votes – not so subtle ‘corruption’. The risk to our democracy is clear. What was intended as ‘one person, one vote’ is shifting at ever increasing pace to ‘one dollar, one vote’. The financial elite are effectively propagating their position, and growing it, at the expense of the majority. Our democracy is moving towards ‘government of the people, by the elite, for the elite’.
So what can be done? First and foremost recognize that corporations are not ‘citizens’ and are not entitled to the protections and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. This means overturn the ‘Citizens United’ decision. Corporations should be banned from donating to political campaigns. They can and still will lobby elected lawmakers with their opinions and views. That is a separate topic. Also needed is full transparency in political advertising. All contributors to political ads should be identified – no ‘dark money’ ads. Third, individual campaign contributions should have a cap. I would suggest a cap pegged to a percentage of the national poverty level definition. This would ensure that candidates would have to gain support from a broader cross-section of the electorate, not just a few ‘elite’. Maintaining the integrity of our democracy must remain a high priority. Hence, the concept of public financing of campaigns needs more attention.
This topic, like others in this series, is a real challenge. And like previous discussions the first step is the same. We need to identify and elect well motivated representatives that will not only represent local interest but put the health of the nation’s democracy as a first priority – above self interest and political interests.