Today America faces many critical problems. Gun violence, climate change, immigration reform, income inequality and terrorism are just a few of the most pressing concerns.
One issue, however, overrides all the others. That is, the power of Big Money to unduly influence the outcome of our elections and the formation of public policy. Eighty-four percent of Americans believe money has too much influence in political campaigns, according to a June 2015 New York Times/CBS News poll. In addition, a July 2014 bipartisan study found that 74% of all voters agreed that it is necessary to fix our broken political system before anything can be done to solve other important national issues.1
Why do we need to get Big Money out of politics first? Because regardless of the issue, Big Money’s grip on our politicians is so strong that they invariably bow to Big Money’s legislative desires at the people’s expense, in order to obtain very large campaign contributions, which help keep them in power.
For example, despite the fact that 92% of Americans support universal background checks for all gun purchases,2 Big Money has been able to buy off our federal representatives and prevent passage of a universal background check statute that would help protect millions of innocent Americans from gun violence. Since the 2000 election cycle, the gun lobby (i.e. the National Rifle Association (NRA), the firearms industry, and the Gun Owners of America) has contributed a combined $81 million to congressional and presidential election campaigns to defeat gun control measures, according to federal disclosures and a study done for the Center for Public Integrity.3 The fact that more than 30,000 people are killed by guns in our country every year, some of which could likely be prevented by universal background checks, seems to matter little to our representatives who receive big campaign contributions from the gun lobby.
By the same token, our congressional representatives appear more interested in the huge campaign contributions they receive from Wall Street than they are in protecting Americans against fraudulent banking practices. As difficult to believe as this may be, Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike voted to pass a section of the 2015 omnibus budget bill that eliminated a taxpayer protection provision from the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. In so doing, our representatives gave Wall Street speculators the green light to once more gamble irresponsibly knowing that Congress had restored taxpayer-backed funds for their reckless ventures, just like the ones that had caused the 2008 Great Recession. This same Congressional support for special interests that ignores or rejects the public good exists in almost all areas of government policy.
While Big Money’s influence is quite formidable, there is, however, a time-tested solution to this problem. As noted in Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America, “when vested interests have constructed seemingly insurmountable barriers to the people’s demands for a more equitable society, Americans have come together and overcome the obstacles…(by forming) mass movements.” Like the Labor, Civil Rights, and Gay and Lesbian Rights movements, among others, now we must build a broad-based, grassroots movement, call it “the Democracy Movement,” to remove the corrupting influence of money in politics and make the government work for all the people.
Moreover, the effort to build such a movement has already begun. Organizations like Common Cause, the Democracy Initiative, Issue One, Take Back Our Republic and People for the American Way are focusing on campaign finance reform to eliminate Big Money’s corrupting effect and establish political equity so that all Americans have a meaningful voice in our government. Please join them. They need your help.
Skeptics will say it cannot be done. Big Money is just too powerful. But against great odds, popular, grassroots movements won women the right to vote, labor the eight-hour workday and the 40-hour work week, gays and lesbians the right to marriage, and all Americans a strong voice in ending the Vietnam War.
Yes, we will need to come together and give it our all. And, it may take a long time. But, what is the alternative? Are we willing to let our great experiment in democracy die? Are we going to leave our children and grandchildren a country controlled by a corrupt political system that has no allegiance to government by and for the people, and no concern for the common good or average Americans?
As noted in Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America, over the course of our history “millions of Americans have sacrificed their lives valiantly fighting for freedom and justice. While today the forces opposing our democratic way of life are neither foreign nor military, they are as strong and dangerous as America has ever faced in the past.” Now it is up to us. We must halt the push toward plutocracy and build the movement to revive democracy in America.
1 See Parick Caddell et al, “Americans Consensus: Fix the Corrupt System,” Popular Resistance Org. July 5, 2014.
2 See “Release Detail,” Quinnipiac University, July 3, 2014.
3 Alan Berlow, et al., “Gun Lobby’s Money and Power Still Holds Sway over Congress,” Center for Public Integrity, May 1, 2013.