Recent events give us four powerful examples of why we desperately need to take back our elections from the big-money interests that are buying our politics. The solution is to clean up election funding through voluntary public financing, so that candidates can run without needing to grovel for donations from wealthy individuals and corporate lobbies. These recent incidents show how strong the opposition is to this basic guarantee of fairness.
1) Big Oil Creates Power
While the BP oil disaster continues to worsen in the Gulf of Mexico, Republicans are demanding we give BP
a bailout and protect its profits with a massive corporate welfare program, by keeping the relatively low liability cap for offshore drilling. Republicans are fighting to make sure BP and other oil companies will never pay for the economic damage they may cause.
2) Wall Street Bullies the Senate
The car-dealer lobby convinced Senators to support an amendment that would have exempted dealers from new consumer financial protections. That was until the legislators met the bigger and more powerful Wall Street lobbyists. They convinced Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) to withdraw the amendment in order to protect financiers from greater regulation.
3) Mysterious Millions Surface in Arkansas
Americans for Job Security, a stealthy but potent group, spent $1.5 million on ads opposing Bill Halter in the Arkansas Democratic primary. No one knows who funds them (they’re officially a trade association, and are not required to disclose that under current election laws). They have a track record since the late 1990s of hitting their targets with big-money ads—and they want to make sure Blanche Lincoln stays a Senator.
4) Corporate Reprisal Terrifies Members of Congress
Finally, Democrats are offering a weak bill in response to the Citizens United ruling, trying to rein in big corporate spending in elections. CQ Politics is reporting that Democrats may water it down even more, so it does not anger those corporations.
Democratic top brass agree on the urgent need for a legal bulwark against what could be an unchecked flood of spending by outside groups this election season after a divided high court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, striking down many restrictions on televised political advertising.
But while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and most of her lieutenants want to pass the measure before the Memorial Day recess, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer is urging caution. The Maryland Democrat’s camp is on edge that without some targeted fixes, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association, in particular, will oppose the measure and exact political revenge on moderate Democrats who supported it.
If the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t hate the bill, then the bill isn’t working. The whole point is to reduce the ability of big corporations, like those that are part of the Chamber of Commerce, to buy our elections. The point isn’t to make them like it.
We Need a Solution
It is amazing just how much control big oil and Wall Street have over the US Senate. During unprecedented massive disasters cause by their own abject failure (big oil with the BP explosion, Wall Street with the financial meltdown), they can still count on a huge number of Senators to protect them from being held accountable.
As long as candidates need to raise millions from private entities to run a viable campaign, I don’t see how Congress can put the needs of millions of Americans first. That is why we need voluntary public financing of elections, so candidates can reach voters without begging for money from the rich. The bill to address this in Congress, the Fair Elections Now Act, seems to be going nowhere. On June 8, the voters of California might take a tiny step in the right direction if they pass Proposition 15 to provide public financing of Secretary of State elections. Long term, until financing is fixed, a host of other problems will affect our country.