Lynn Abbott: King Dollar
January 27, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court negated your vote and mine and gave them to corporations and unions. With unfettered access, these entities now can spend as much as they like, when they like, on political campaigns. We thought we lived in a democracy where one person equals one vote. Now it is a monarchy, and the dollar is king.
This decision frees up corporate and union political contributions. However, unions do not have big enough bank accounts to affect most political races. They already spend about as much as they can on politics. Thus, I'll focus only on the increased influence of corporate money today.
Imagine that as the midterm elections heat up next summer, you have studied the voting record and speeches of one of our legislators who is running for re-election. You decide you really like this candidate's position on energy independence — or health care reform, or education, or local growth policies, or any other issue that is important to you. So even though your money is tight, you contribute $50 to that campaign. You also go door to door persuading others to join in with a few dollars. It's grass-roots politics at its best.
Suddenly, a massive $1-million-plus ad campaign is launched against your candidate, financed by a large corporation with deep pockets. Scathing commercials blare from the TV. Big full-color newspaper ads make unfounded statements. How will your candidate combat this onslaught with the $50,000 that you and others have collected in small donations? It won't happen.
Corporations' primary goal is to make money for their shareholders. An oil company fights legislation that restricts drilling where water may be contaminated. Health insurance companies stand against guaranteed insurance for people with serious illnesses or pre-existing conditions. A pharmaceutical company opposes candidates who support volume pricing for Medicare prescriptions. Corporations are not in business for the common good, and they were never intended to be. When they flood the airwaves with commercials that favor certain candidates, it is with the full intention of seeing the passage of legislation that will enhance their bottom lines.
Elected officials, on the other hand, are in office to represent the best interests of their constituents. They make decisions that affect every aspect of our lives, from the environment, to health care, to our economic climate and to education. They must remember that they represent the people who drink the water, buy the prescription drugs and worry about losing jobs.
Jonathan Alter states in this week's Newsweek that this court decision is the "most serious threat to American democracy in a generation." I agree. In addition to all the reasons above, I oppose this decision because, as Alter points out, it overturns 100 years of federal judicial precedent and kills campaign finance laws of 22 states.
When I told a friend that I was furious and depressed about this Supreme Court decision, he said he thought it was a necessity. His point was that our policy decisions have been shaped by corporate money for years, but that we ignored it because it wasn't out in the open. This court decision has now put the issue squarely in front of us. We must act now. Fortunately, there is a vehicle already in place: the 2009 Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752 and H.R. 1826). Introduced last March in the Senate by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and in the House of Representatives by Reps. John Larson, D-Conn., and Walter Jones Jr., R-N.C., this bill would allow federal legislators to focus on their constituents instead of on fundraising. Candidates could run on their qualifications and integrity, without having to cultivate a network of lobbyists. For more details on this bill, please see http://www.publicampaign.org/node/38166.
Ideally, we should have passed this bill long before tackling any of our critical issues. Health care, education, financial regulations and climate change all should be decided by legislators who can focus purely on the merits of the issues and the benefits to their constituents — not whether their vote will bring in a big ad campaign in the next election. If you agree with me, please call our legislators: Sen. Mark Udall at 202-224-5941, Sen. Michael Bennet at 202-224-5852, and Rep. John Salazar at 202-225-4761. Please ask them to make this bill their top priority.
Abbott is a member of Routt County Democrats.