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Don’t cede your power to moneyed interests in politics

By now you have probably heard that on April 2 the Supreme Court announced its decision on the McCutcheon vs. FEC case, striking down overall limits on election campaign contributions. This ruling, along with the court’s findings in the Citizens United case, has unleashed a torrent of money into politics.

Some people are convinced that corporations, unions, big business, wealthy individuals, etc., should be free to donate their money to campaigns in the same way that all of us are free to speak in favor of or in opposition to candidates. That may sound good on paper, but when put into practice, being able to donate without limits tilts the playing field. One person, one vote becomes an illusion, and reality begins to take the shape of one dollar, one vote.

Unbalanced contributions from anywhere, right, left or center, have the potential to influence election outcomes in an unbalanced way. It seems highly unlikely that teacher unions, lawyer associations, pharmaceutical companies, energy corporations and wealthy individuals make large donations to campaigns without some expectation of a return on their “investment.” And there is ample evidence that those who are elected lean in the direction of big contributions. When that happens, the donations become nothing more than legalized bribes, and we move away from democracy and toward plutocracy.



Important issues such as infrastructure, jobs, fair wages, immigration, environmental protection, energy, health, financial regulation, etc., have a high probability of being decided in favor of moneyed interests as long as their corrupting clout is allowed to remain in place.

None of this is a secret. We know about it and gripe about it, but we don’t do anything about it. We’re so busy expressing outrage and pointing fingers that we’re not accepting responsibility for any of it. We’ve become a dysfunctional electorate.



Despite an increase of more than 8 million citizens in the eligible population, voter turnout dipped from 62.3 percent of eligible citizens voting in 2008 to an estimated 57.5 in 2012. Between gerrymandering, an outdated and flawed electoral process, and an increasing sense that the deck is being stacked by big business and the wealthy, voter apathy should not surprise anyone.

That apathy is characterized by a sense of being powerless and a conviction that we might as well cede the political sphere to big money and to the power structure that moneyed interests have constructed. And, that conviction is probably justified — UNLESS each of us is willing to act. A lot of people are already doing just that — marching, protesting, blogging, writing letters to the editor, joining groups like Getmoneyout, Common Cause, Representus, MoveOn, Rootstrikers, Move to Amend, etc. The fact that this is going on is just not being reported in corporate-owned mainstream media.

One simple way to get involved is to challenge candidates as we move toward elections later this year and in 2016. Write to them, attend their town meetings, go to their debates, call their campaign headquarters, and answer their requests for support by delivering a message something like this:

“I want you to know that I intend to vote for the candidate who provides the most credible answer to the following question: ‘If elected, what are you going to do to fight the corrupting influence of money in politics?’ I look forward to your response.”

If you don’t get an answer or don’t like the answer that you receive, find someone whose response does satisfy you, and vote for that person.

Meanwhile, consider the words of Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple”: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

To that I will add: Democracy is not a spectator sport. Thinking that we have power is a start — but “thinking” is not the same as “doing.” We either cede our power to moneyed interests or we use our remaining freedoms to act. If we sit on the sidelines now, it seems likely that we will have to do something more radical in the future — or write letters of apology to our grandchildren.

— John Palmer is a retired college professor and member of the Post Independent editorial board.


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