“Money, Politics and The 2020 Elections”
9/11/2020 Zoom Talk Sponsored by the Cortez Public Library
Welcome everyone. I want to thank Jim Mischke and Cassandra Leoncini for making this Zoom event happen and the Cortez Public Library for sponsoring it.
I’d like to address three issues this evening:
- The issue of the undue influence of money in politics
- How it affects we the people, and this year’s elections, and
- What we can do about?
Let me start by reading a little from my book, Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America, pp. 10 and 11, “We are all in this together.”
So, what do we mean by the term Big Money?
It is the power of vast sums of money to influence the outcome of elections and the formation of public policy to favor special interests.
And, it’s a non-partisan issue, both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of being unduly influenced by Big Money in their election campaigns as well as in their policy-making decision.
Let’s go back in history and see how this issue arose in our country. In the 1890’s, wealthy, Republican senator from Ohio, Mark Hanna noted: “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.” Hanna used his wealth to get Pres. William McKinley elected in 1896 and 1900. But, there IS a second important thing in politics, that is, we the people. More about that later.
The issue of the undue influence of money in politics began way before Sen. Hanna.
Remember the phrase: No taxation without representation. It originated with the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, when some American colonists dumped a shipload of tea into the Boston Harbor, 2 years before the beginning of the American Revolution.
A major concern leading up to the Revolutionary War was the British Parliament’s granting the British East India company the right to export their tea to the colonies, duty free, while the colonists were being taxed on the imported tea without representation in the Parliament. Just like today when American corporations are lobbying Congress for tax breaks, this huge company used its undue influence in the British Parliament to obtain a tax advantage. And the American people would not stand for it.
Here are some modern examples of the Undue Influence of Big Money in American Politics:
1. Pres. Clinton’s Repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.
In the late 1990s, Robert Rubin, Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration and a former Goldman Sachs co-chairman, used his influential position to gain repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. That law had separated investment banking from commercial banking since the days of FDR. It had protected ordinary Americans’ bank deposits from being used by investment bankers on highly speculative investments.
Rather than protecting the interests of the American people, Secretary Rubin’s efforts supported his Wall St. friends. Repealing Glass-Steagall allowed the Big Banks to gamble with depositors’ money using our insured deposits to underwrite fraudulent private securities. It was a major cause of the crash of the housing market leading to the Great Recession of 2008.
2. Iraq War under Rep. Pres. Bush – In 2003, U.S. went to war mainly so major American oil companies could gain control of Iraqi oil reserves, not because the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction.
- P. Dick Chaney, the former CEO of Halliburton, one of the world’s largest oil-services companies, used oil industry’s undue influence. Convinced Americans into believing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, so that the United States would invade Iraq and presumably gain control of its vast oil reserves for the benefit of Big Oil.
- Cheney helped Halliburton obtain numerous government contracts in Iraq worth close to $40 billion during our occupation of that country. This needless war-of-choice cost close to two trillion dollars, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi lives, and thousands of American lives.
- As of January 2017, according to the Pew Research Center, 65% of Americans favor alternative energy development over expanding fossil fuel resources, but our government is still focused on the extractive energy industry due to Big Money’s undue influence.
3. Medicare Modernization Act. In 2003, Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Republican from Louisiana and then Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, drafted the Medicare prescription drug bill, which created Medicare’s Part D, prescription drug benefit.
- In his final election for Congress in 2002, Tauzin received close to $300,000 in campaign contributions from health professionals, drug makers and other health products companies. The bill Tauzin drafted followed the drug industry’s desires. It forbade our government, the largest purchaser of prescription drugs, from negotiating with drug manufacturers to secure lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries, which is why today we still pay the highest prices in the world for our prescription medicines.
- The next year Tauzin left Congress and went through the revolving door between government and K Street, where the lobbyists work, and was hired by the drug industry. Tauzin rewarded for writing the drug bill to its liking by hiring him as president of its lobbying organization with a salary of approximately $2 million a year.
- That’s how the system works for many of our public servants. Retiring from Congress and becoming a lobbyist is a fairly common practice. According to one study, 42% of House members and 50% of senators become lobbyists when they leave office. Not only do they make a lot more money when they leave Congress, but also they automatically have built-in access to the members of Congress, having worked with many of them when they themselves were in office. further tilts the playing field in the favor of their corporate clients. Of course, they also receive their government pension and health care. Our public servants truly have quite a racket going for them.
4. 2008 Great Recession
- The government bailed out Wall St. while millions of average Americans lost their homes. Some of Pres. Obama’s biggest donors during the 2008 campaign were Wall St. banks, and he appointed a number of Goldman Sachs people, including Larry Summers, Gene Sperling and Rahm Emanuel to important positions in his administration.
- Despite the fact that the TARP legislation (Troubled Asset Relief Program) included instructions to use a portion of the funds to prevent foreclosure of people’s homes, Obama refused to extract foreclosure relief measures from our nation’s biggest banks, some of which were big Obama campaign contributors, in return for the huge bailout they received.
- 5. Obamacare
- Deal btw Obama and Drug and Health Insurance industries failed to have a public option to keep costs down due to undue influence of Health industry Big Money. Wrote ACA to meet private industry’s needs more than those of most Americans. 69% of voters support Medicare for All. (The Hill-Harris Poll, April 2020)
- COVID-19 Bailout/CARES Act Lots of the bailout funds went to oil and gas and other big business who could get private loans, while small businesses got little and many went under. $500 billion of the $2 trillion went to large corporations that needed it the least.
- Gun Lobby Money Blocks basic gun safety laws like universal background checks. Yet, 97% support universal background checks for gun purchases. (Quinnipiac University National Poll, February 2018)
- Result – Public Policy made by corporate lobbyists and Super PACs while Elections are bought by Big Donors and million-dollar TV ads that twist the truth. We, the people have practically no real influence, especially on the federal level.
- New Mexico example of Big Money’s Undue Influence
The oil and gas industry, one of the largest contributors to New Mexico legislators’ election campaigns, gave a combined total of over $7.6 million directly to candidates in state races from 2004 through 2012. As a result, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Act, which sets fines and penalties for violations of the act resulting in the pollution of our precious groundwater, has not been updated since its enactment in 1935. Clearly, the fines and penalties for failing to protect our water determined over 75 years ago are woefully inadequate and an ineffective deterrent by today’s financial standards.
13. Our government does not represent the will of the great majority of the American people.
The power of Big Money to unduly influence politicians and government policy to favor corporate America and special interests is the single most important factor.
While this is nothing new, and no secret to anyone who’s paying the least bit attention, the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which declared money is speech and corporations are people, alerted many Americans to just how critical the situation is. The truth is, we have a system that thrives on Big Money’s donations, and it’s getting worse all the time.
A great many of our representatives, both state and federal, are beholden to Big Money, and they are not about to fix our corrupt political system. So, what can we, the people, do about it?
B. The Solution: Go back to our history and see how the second important thing that Sen. Hanna couldn’t remember has influenced our politics.
- The Democracy Movement. While Big Money usually drives our politics, when enough people rise up, they can overcome the power of Big Money and achieve great social advancements. The most potent force for change in our country’s history has been the mass movement. From the abolitionists to women’s suffrage and organized labor, to more recently civil rights and LBGTQ rights, when millions of people come together and demand what’s fair and just, they can and do force the status quo to change.
Today, 3 out of 4 Americans, including a majority of Republicans and Democrats, believe we need to fix our broken political system, overturn Citizens United and get Big Money out of politics in order to solve any of the major issues facing our nation.
- 3 Essential Elements of a Mass Movement
(1) Non-partisan and include a broad range of the political spectrum, Republicans and Democrats; conservatives, moderates and liberals; Independents, Libertarians and progressives.
(2) Grassroots: include a vast majority of the population from all sections of the country. Give people reason to believe their involvement will be beneficial to their lives. People need to feel personally linked to the movement’s purpose and grasp the value of its potential benefits for themselves and others. The more deeply connected people are to a movement’s values and goals, the more likely they are to become actively involved.
(3) A clear, powerful and convincing message that resonates with most Americans. Something like this:
Big Money and Corporate America control our government. They buy politicians’ loyalty and unduly influence them with huge campaign contributions and very substantial lobbying efforts. We, the American people, are the big losers in this legally corrupt system. We support these politicians by volunteering in their campaigns, voting for them and paying their salaries with our hard-earned tax dollars. Yet, they repeatedly pass legislation (e.g., huge subsidies for the oil industry and bailouts for Wall Street banks), which favors Big Money and Corporate America at our great expense. The truth is our government does the bidding of Big Money while it very often disregards the common good and the wellbeing of most Americans. In fact, the United States has become a plutocracy, a nation ruled by and for the benefit of the very wealthy. In order to overcome the power of Big Money, Americans of all political persuasion must join together and build a nationwide, non-partisan, grassroots movement to revive our democracy.
- Current Situation
- A Democracy Movement is currently developing to eliminate the corrupting influence of Big Money and give all Americans an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. The many groups involved need to coalesce under one overriding message: Break Big Money’s grip on America in order to revive our democracy. Whether the issue is the environment, immigration, affordable healthcare, gun violence, or whatever, the common denominator that prevents the enactment of real, positive solutions to practically every issue we face is the undue influence of Big Money.
Bipartisan groups like Issue One and Represent Us believe politicians should be responsible to the people and not to self-serving moneyed interests who seek government subsidies and special treatment at a significant cost to taxpayers.
- Started NM for Money Out of Politics in 2016. Now RepresentUs New Mexico. Organizing must happen on the local, grassroots level as well. In August 2016 in Santa Fe, New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics was founded based on the goals in my book, Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America. We are a non-partisan, non-profit, tax-exempt organization.
- Our Mission is to remove the corrupting influence of money in politics and make the government work for all the people of NM and our country.
- Our Goals: (1) Establish public financing of all congressional and presidential elections, preferably mandatory.
(2) Enact a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United, and McCutcheon v. FEC decisions finding that money is speech, corporations are people, and restrictions on campaign contributions violate the freedom of speech. Citizens United v. FEC, U.S. Supreme Court, on 1/21/2010, ruled that laws preventing corporations and unions from using general treasury funds for independent electioneering communications violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.
(3) Reform and strictly regulate lobbying so that all Americans have equal access to their elected officials regardless of their income, corporate position, or labor affiliation.
(4) Eliminate the gerrymandering of congressional districts so that each state’s delegation to the House of Representatives is proportionate to the votes each party receives in that state’s elections for Congress.
(5) Enact a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College so that every citizen’s vote for president carries the same weight and the president is elected solely on the basis of the national popular vote. Or, enact the National Popular Compact.
(6) Establish a national Bill of Voters’ Rights guaranteeing all citizens of the United States an equal opportunity to vote and eliminating restrictive voter ID requirements and other efforts obstructing people’s right to vote. be guaranteed and protected.
(1) Organize – Establish local groups whose political concerns focus on eliminating the corrupting influence of money in politics, developing political equality so every citizen’s voice counts, and creating a political process in which our policymakers are accountable to the people and the public interest.
(2) Educate and Train – People need to become aware of how destructive Big Money in politics really is, and how it affects them personally; whether it’s our lack of safety due to insufficient gun control laws; the high cost we pay for prescription drugs and healthcare; or our taxes supporting an Iraqi War which makes us all more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. People get involved when they see that something is adversely affecting them personally, and they understand that they can actually change it for the better.
(3) Mobilize – By forming mass marches, promoting huge petition drives, attending town hall meetings, and running people for office, we are mobilizing people committed to actively working for the goals of a Democracy Movement.
- The election and the road ahead.
None of this will be easy. And, victory will not come quickly. It took the women’s suffrage movement 70 years, but they persisted and prevailed, winning the right to vote. We need to be committed for the long haul. And we need to act quickly: time is running out before our democracy and our climate is crushed by Big Money’s grip.
That brings us to this year’s election. Some believe the election is all about Trump. Did he do a good enough job to deserve a second term. Most Americans have strong opinions, one way or another about this.
I believe the election is really about us, We the people.
What kind of country do we want to live in?
What kind of country do we want to leave to our children and grandchildren?
And, what are we willing to do, to sacrifice, right now to ensure that the United States survives as a democracy that represents and serves all the people?
In other words, what will you do between now and November 3 in answering these questions?
Sit on the sidelines and say you are too small to have any real influence?
Or, get to work to make sure we have a government that represents you and your interests?
If your answer is get to work, here’s one suggestion.
Political Moneyball. (Mention the movie)
In political terms, it’s used to identify undervalued candidates as a way of leveraging the power of small donors and/or a relatively small number of voters. In other words, where can we get the most bang for our buck?
Sam Wang is a Princeton neuroscientist who also founded the Princeton Election Consortium. Using Political Moneyball, he explains that a close race in a small state is where a small donation (one that most of us can probably make) or a small number of voters could have the greatest impact on an election outcome.
For example, Prof. Wang compares the race in Kentucky between Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat Amy McGrath with the Senate race in Montana between incumbent Republican Steve Daines and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. McConnell is a well-funded incumbent who appears to have a large lead in a solid red state. Donating $100 to McGrath’s or McConnell’s campaign is not likely to make much of a difference.
On the other hand, Bullock and Daines are in a tight race in a low population state. Since campaigning is less expensive in Montana, your $50 or $100 donation will go further there in convincing a small number of voters to provide the “tipping-point support” for either candidate’s winning the election.
Prof. Wang’s Moneyball 2020 approach also indicates where our efforts in the presidential race would have the most impact. Those states are Nevada, Arizona and North Carolina. Other Senate races where a little will go a long way are in Alaska, South Carolina and Kansas.
Here’s our chance to truly make a difference. Volunteer to make phone calls or give a donation in these states’ presidential races and Senate campaigns for the candidate of your choice. We don’t have to be a Super PAC to have a real impact. Political Moneyball may just be our winning ticket.
Close by reading another short piece from my book, p. 118.
Mention website: breakingbigmoneysgrip.com. For copy of my book, write to me at 2957 Viaje Pavo Real, Santa Fe, NM 87505. $15 including postage.