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Billionaires Are Buying Our Democracy
         Part 1               PDF of Billionaires Are Buying Our Democracy

In 2010, the Supreme Court, in a 5‑4 vote, handed down the Citizens United decision which said that political spending is a form of protected speech and the government may not prevent corporations and unions from spending money to influence elections, so long as the money is not given directly to the candidates.

The majorityís point of view, as stated by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption.” This opinion was met with derision by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote, “At bottom, the Courtís opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self‑government since the founding.”

In the years that followed, the decision unleashed huge sums of money into the election process. It paved the way for direct corporate spending and the creation of Super Pacs, which can accept unlimited contributions from corporations. As a result, a candidate who knows that a Super Pac is gunning for him/her is forced to raise even more money to counter the effects of the Super Pacís money, and, in the process, becomes even more beholden to major donors.

In 2012, just 32 donors gave more to Super Pacs than 3.7 million Americans of average means who gave under $200 to the presidential candidates. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren noted, “When 32 people can outspend 3.7 million citizens our democracy is in real danger.”

Disproportionate spending manifests itself in many ways: For instance, at least three quarters of Americans back a minimum wage increase. Yet, Congress has not passed such a measure because of the huge influence exerted by groups like the National Restaurant Association. The threat of climate change is being largely ignored by a Congress that received millions from the Koch brothersí fossil fuel interests. In February, the Koch brothers announced that their network of donors plans to invest $900 million in the 2016 campaigns, a sum greater than that which the Democrat or Republican organizations have ever spent on a campaign. In a recent blogpost Pearl Korn wrote, “Is a Koch Party now emerging to become more powerful even than the Republican Party?”

Since corporations are always anxious to remove regulations on everything from public health to environmental rules, we citizens need a strong government to protect us from the efforts of groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is an extremely well‑funded lobbying outfit that promotes government policies that help powerful corporations make even more profits. It has poured millions into efforts at deregulation. The effects include everything from ecological and economic damage to the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil spill to the 2009 outbreak of salmonella in peanut butter. Deregulation is the major cause of the mortgage loan crisis and the severe economic recession that it triggered. Under George W. Bush, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs undid regulations on pesticide use, coalmine ventilation, air and water quality, lead paint disclosures, toxic release reporting and family medical leave.

Every survey shows that the public wants government to spend more on education and health, on helping the poor, on protecting the environment and on raising the minimum wage. But corporations have used their millions to thwart these wishes by supporting efforts to slash taxes, reduce social spending and undermine regulatory programs. We have moved from a society of ‘we are all in this together’ to a society of ‘youíre on your own.’


Read Part 2



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