Friday, October 8, 2010

This is Not Getting Enough Attention

Robert Reich, Cal-Berkeley professor and former Labor Secretary under President Clinton, has sounded what should be democracy's alarm bell. Corporate America is dominating the electoral process as never before. The big recent change was the Supreme Court's loathsome decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission.

Much has been said about that decision, how it curiously equates corporations, including multi-billion dollar conglomerates, with persons, and thus able to spend unlimited amounts of money to, in effect, buy elections. However, Reich reminds us that the other kicker in all this is that groups that receive much of this funding do not have to say where they got it (as opposed to money that goes directly to politicians, who do have to reveal sources). In the process we are looking increasingly like a stereotypic banana republic where powerful elites and their rich cronies dominate the entire election process.

Be sure to read Reich's entire article, but I want to stress a few points he makes. One is that elections are becoming more opaque. As Reich says, "...only 32 percent of groups paying for election ads are disclosing the names of their donors. By comparison, in the 2006 midterm, 97 percent disclosed; in 2008, almost half disclosed." To compound the problem, there is every indication that foreign money is pouring into campaign coffers. Yes, it is illegal, but it is now harder to prove than ever before. (And it Republicans take control of Congress, what are the chances they will investigate that?)

Senate Democrats recently attempted to pass a bill that would compel disclosure. As has so often been the case, every Republican in the Senate voted against it. Corporate money is pouring into Republican coffers, so it is no surprise that the GOP responds so predictably to its benefactors. Reich notes that less than 10 years ago, campaign disclosure was supported by a large majority of senate Republicans.

It is not at all certain what citizens can do about this, especially the growing number of poor and unemployed. Reich says, "Right now we're headed for a perfect storm: An unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top, a record amount of secret money flooding our democracy, and a public in the aftershock of the Great Recession becoming increasingly angry and cynical about government. The three are obviously related."

Indeed they are.  Reich offers eight ways citizens can fight back, but this is an uphill slog that does not bode well for democracy, for the middle class, or for America. We are headed for oligarchy.

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