The Selling of American Democracy: The Perfect Storm

Who’s buying our democracy? Wall Street financiers, the Koch brothers, and casino magnates Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn.

And they’re doing much of it in secret.

It’s a perfect storm:

The greatest concentration of wealth in more than a century — courtesy “trickle-down” economics, Reagan and Bush tax cuts, and the demise of organized labor.

Combined with…

Unlimited political contributions — courtesy of Republican-appointed Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy, in one of the dumbest decisions in Supreme Court history, “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission,” along with lower-court rulings that have expanded it.

Combined with…

Complete secrecy about who’s contributing how much to whom — courtesy of a loophole in the tax laws that allows so-called non-profit “social welfare” organizations to accept the unlimited contributions for hard-hitting political ads.

Put them all together and our democracy is being sold down the drain.

With a more equitable and traditional distribution of wealth, far more Americans would have a fair chance of influencing politics. As the great jurist Louis Brandeis once said, “we can have a democracy or we can have great wealth in the hands of a comparative few, but we cannot have both.”

Alternatively, inequality wouldn’t be as much of a problem if we had strict laws limiting political spending or, at the very least, disclosing who was contributing what.

But we have an almost unprecedented concentration of wealth and unlimited political spending and secrecy.

I’m not letting Democrats off the hook. Democratic candidates are still too dependent on Wall Street casino moguls and real casino magnates (Steve Wynn has been a major contributor to Harry Reid, for example). George Soros and a few others have poured big bucks into Democratic coffers. So have a handful of trade unions.

But make no mistake. Compared to what the GOP is doing this year, Democrats are conducting a high-school bake sale. The mega-selling of American democracy is a Republican invention, and Romney and the GOP are its major beneficiaries.

And the losers aren’t just Democrats. They’re the American people.

You need to make a ruckus. Don’t fall into the seductive trap of cynicism. That’s what the sellers of American democracy are counting on. If you give up on our system of government, they win everything.

This coming Monday, for example, the Senate has scheduled a cloture vote on the DISCLOSE ACT, which would at least require that outfits like the Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s “Crossroads GPS” disclose who’s contributing what. Contact your senators, and have your friends and relatives in other states — especially those with Republican senators (who have been united in their opposition to disclosure) — contact theirs. If the DISCLOSE ACT is voted down, hold accountable those senators (and, when and if it gets to the House, those House members) who are selling out our democracy for the sake of their own personal ambitions.

This post originally appeared at Robert Reich’s Blog and is posted with permission.

6 Responses to "The Selling of American Democracy: The Perfect Storm"

  1. SLDI   July 16, 2012 at 11:39 am

    "Who’s buying our democracy? Wall Street financiers…"

    Nothing new about this. With the so-called "perfect storm" approaching, consider what President Thomas Jefferson said in 1802:

    “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”

    And concerning your political analysis:

    "Unlimited political contributions — courtesy of Republican-appointed Justices… I’m not letting Democrats off the hook. Democratic candidates are still too dependent on Wall Street casino moguls…"

    Partisan political analysis can be treacherous sledding, as personal angst and partisan fervor are unleashed full blast. In his Farewell Address, George Washington was particularly adamant in warning the nation that this “spirit of party” was “not to be encouraged” because it was – “A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”

    Sustainable Land Development Initiative
    Balance in Contentious Times

  2. Jay Hodge   July 17, 2012 at 5:54 am

    So …. now that Romney is raising a lot of money all this comes to light????? Where was this article when it was, hands down, working in obama's favor ???? Funny how the liberal mind works ….. selective memory at best, totally ignoring facts at worst ….. I have definitely come to expect more, and better from the EconoMonitor ….. I don't know how this one got past Roubini without serious additional facts and associations (b.ho. / Goldman / ACORN / etc, etc ….)

    • Brooke Jenings   July 17, 2012 at 1:29 pm

      I don't recall seeing anything about Obama receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from secret donors, or benefiting from ad campaigns funded by secret donors. All of this was illegal before Citizens United, and played no role in Obama's first campaign.

      Talk about liberal selective memory and ignoring facts?

      BTW, in Citizens United, the conservative court did not answer the question it was asked. In the course of oral arguments, it asked another question only tangentially related to the first, and then answered its own question. It overturned a century of prior decisions, claiming to find somewhere in the Constitution a right for corporations to spend unlimited sums to support political candidates anonymously! This is at least in the running for most egregious case of legislating from the bench in history. Have you heard any Republicans complaining this time?

  3. mark stuart   July 17, 2012 at 10:37 am

    You are correct in claiming that more meaningful disclosure is needed to safeguard us all.
    You fail to propose any meaningful changes in disclosure laws, and this undermines your credibility. The issue that is important to our future is not how much any person or entity gives to a politician, but rather what payment or service is being given in return.
    Both parties are afraid of real disclosure, becuase it would lead to less granting of favors, and to the eventual diminishment of political power and the incomes of those who can influence political power. Why not propose a simple solution , that doesn't involve restricting freedom?

    • Brooke Jennings   July 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm

      There is a wide array of possible solutions, and I haven't really studied them,because I doubt if anything is really possible while the Republicans have the strength to block it. So long as that persists, the question is moot..

      Of course if you are willing to entertain things which are impossible, how about passing an amendment to repeal Citizens United, and establish public funding of campaigns? And prohibit gerrymandering too.

      It is interesting that Utah's Sen. Hatch previously, when opposing campaign finance regulation, stated that disclosure was sufficient. He just voted against the DISCLOSE Act.