The wealthy aren’t just steering politics, they’re conscripting it from the will of the people.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Are you sick of hearing about the 1 percent yet? Well, don’t be. There’s a big reason everyone is talking about the ones on top: They’re more powerful and rich now than they have ever been within current human consciousness. The tremendous influence they have on political elections is a non-partisan issue, as far as the 99 percent should be concerned.
The U.S. Senate was even talking about the 1 percent at a hearing July 17 titled Taking Back Our Democracy: Responding to Citizens United and the Rise of Super PACs.”
Former Louisiana Gov. Charles “Buddy” Roemer pointed out the latest 1 percent fact at that hearing when he said less than 1 percent of American citizens give 99 percent of all political campaign contributions. Here are some of the other highlights from that hearing, which I attended.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, talked about wealth disparities and how the power of the rich influences politics in America. “Economically, the United States today has by far the most unequal distribution of wealth income of any major country on earth,” he said, “and that inequality is worse today than it was anytime since the late 1920s.” Citizens United tells the billionaires that in addition to owning the economy, they now have the opportunity to “own” the government for a very small percentage of their wealth, he said.
“HALF OF ALL SUPER PAC MONEY IS COMING FROM JUST 22 PEOPLE.”
The Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, for example, owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people, Sanders said. A $400 million dollar donation by a family worth $50 billion is a small investment for them to preserve the status quo; Sanders fears America is well on its way toward an oligarchic form of government. “The future of the American democracy is at stake,” Sanders said in closing, and that’s why he supports a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., presented more disturbing facts at the hearing: After Citizens United, secret spending skyrocketed from 1 percent to 40 percent of political campaign spending; half of all super PAC money is coming from just 22 people; and super PACs threaten to purchase practically every last minute of available election time advertising.
Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow from the CATO Institute, caused a stir among the senators when he proposed libertarian ideas for dealing with the corruption and monopolization of political speech in America. He suggested government is just too big: “The solution is to shrink the amount of political influence there is to control,” he said. “Shrink government, and you’ll shrink the amount people are willing to spend trying to get their piece of the pie.”
But that is hardly as appalling as the comments he later posted on his blog. According to him, those calling for campaign finance regulation are masking what they really want: “less speech” and government control over who speaks and how much.
Let’s be clear about this: The goal of campaign regulation is to limit the monopolization of political speech by the highest bidder, not control it. Durbin said it best when talking about super PACs: “They have a right to be heard, but they do not have the right to be the only ones heard.”
Limiting corruption and monopoly are regulatory functions well founded in American jurisprudence. They have only recently been swept into the dustbin by Citizens United, a reckless Supreme Court decision that seems not only to have abandoned logic, but also the American people.
Former Weekly intern Neil Heckman is an Iraq War veteran and a 2012 graduate of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, where he studied international environmental policy. He currently lives in Washington, D.C.