This letter was provoked by recent political events that have left me concerned about the future of our democracy. One of the ideals of our democracy is that all individuals are equal under the law.
This ideal is expressed, in part, through the principle of “one person-one vote.” Although we each do have only one vote, we also have opportunities to engage in activities that may influence other’s votes. Much of the information individuals rely on when deciding how to vote comes through the media. Candidates often spend enormous amounts of money on media in the hope that if they spend enough they will drown the message of their opponent.
One of the means for us to influence others is through contributing to candidates to help them promote their message. US law severely limits the amount that individuals are allowed to donate to a candidate or party, and therefore limits the amount of influence individuals may have on elections; corporations are, however, no longer under such limits.
Last year corporations hired more than 11,000 lobbyists and spent $2.95 billion to influence legislators to pass laws favorable to their interests (that is more than $550,000 for each individual member of the House and Senate).
During the past two decades the Supreme Court has become increasingly corporate friendly. This past year, under the guise of free speech, the Supreme Court finally removed limits on corporate campaign contributions. Corporations may now donate unlimited amounts to candidates; the corporate right to influence elections has been given precedence over individual rights.
Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida best described the results of this decision when he stated “We’re now in a situation, where a lobbyist can walk into my office and say, ‘I’ve got $5 million to spend, and I can spend it for you or against you. Which do you prefer?’”
Some current legislators apparently not only find this situation acceptable; they, in fact, don=t even want people to be able to find out where their money comes from.
The House, and then the Senate (just last week), recently voted on a bill (the Disclose Act) that would have required disclosure of financing for political ads.
This law did not limit corporate contributions, it simply required that political ads state who was paying for them. Only one Republican House member (not from Georgia) voted for the bill, and not a single Republican member of the Senate voted for it (neither Chambliss nor Isakson voted for it).
At a time when a majority of Americans support campaign finance reform it is unconscionable that a simple disclosure bill cannot gain full support of the House and Senate. Why do these legislators feel that we should not be allowed to know who is financing their ads and helping pay their bills?
The enormous influence of corporate money on our politics and policies is apparent in many of the current attitudes expressed by some of our legislators. This has been very apparent, for example, in their response to the current BP oil spill.
GOP Rep. Joe Barton, the top Republican on the House Energy Committee’s subcommittee for investigations, actually apologized to the BP CEO (video available on YouTube) and said that he was ashamed of the American response to BP’s oil spill. The Republican Study Committee (chaired by Georgia’s own Tom Price) issued the statement below (which I have quoted completely):
The full statement:
"In fact, BP has already begun paying claims. Any attempt by the company to sidestep that responsibility should be met with the strongest legal recourses available. However, in an administration that appears not to respect fundamental American principles, it is important to note that there is no legal authority for the President to compel a private company to set up or contribute to an escrow account.
“BP's reported willingness to go along with the White House's new fund suggests that the Obama Administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago style shakedown politics. These actions are emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this Administration's drive for greater power and control. It is the same mentality that believes an economic crisis or an environmental disaster is the best opportunity to pursue a failed liberal agenda. The American people know much better.”
True democracy requires that everyone have a voice; corporations should not be allowed to buy politicians while the rest of us sit on the sidelines. Politicians of either party who oppose even the simplest attempts at campaign finance reform should be voted out of office.