Opinion: Big money buying U.S. democracy

April 9, 2014


This is a column about campaign finance reform.

And your eyes glazed over just then, didn’t they?

That’s the problem with this problem. Americans know that government truly of, by and for the people is unlikely if not impossible so long as the system is polluted by billions of dollars in contributions from corporations and individual billionaires. Half of us, according to Gallup, would like to see public financing of campaigns; nearly 80 percent want to limit campaign fund-raising.

And yet somehow, the issue seems to lack a visceral urgency in the public mind. William Ostrander understands that all too well.

“There are people that will go nuts over the Second Amendment,” he says in a telephone interview. And not to diminish the importance of self-defense, he adds, but “when you look at the practical character of it, what’s going on in campaign finance corruption is far more injurious to their lives, their well-being and their children’s lives than anything most people have had to deal with with the Second Amendment.”

Ostrander is a farmer in tiny San Luis Obispo, Calif., and the director of something called Citizens Congress 2014. Its members include a school teacher, a small-business man, a firefighter, a general contractor and a doctor — your basic average Americans — who have collectively invested thousands of volunteer hours to set up a summit (June 2-5) of lawyers, lawmakers, academics, advocacy groups and other experts.

Their aim: to brainstorm strategies and craft a plan of action to eliminate the influence of big money in politics.

Quixotic? Perhaps. But Ostrander says he has commitments from a number of high profile individuals including: former labor secretary Robert Reich, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig; and Trevor Potter, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who is probably best known for his appearances on “The Colbert Report,” where he helped Stephen Colbert set up a Super PAC.

We should wish them success. Because truth is, while many of us watch with eyes glazed, democracy is being stolen right out from under us. Consider that last week, the Supreme Court issued a ruling further loosening the limits on campaign donations. Consider the unseemly way four presumptive presidential aspirants ran to Las Vegas to kiss Sheldon Adelson’s ring when the billionaire casino magnate announced he was looking for candidates to support. Consider what billionaire Tom Perkins said in February: Only taxpayers should have the right to vote and the rich should have more votes.

We’re already moving in that direction. As new voter ID laws and other restrictive measures cull the electorate of poor people, brown people and young people, as the Supreme Court further tilts the playing field toward the monied and the privileged, the notion of one person, one vote, the idea that we each have an equal say in the doings of our government, comes to feel ... quaint if not downright naive.

So the politician, though she came to office determined to do right by her constituents, finds she must pay greater attention to the needs of a large donor than to those of the people she was elected to represent. And you get paradoxes like the one last year, where, although 91 percent of us wanted criminal background checks for all gun sales, somehow that didn’t happen, didn’t even come close.

It’s not the politicians’ fault, says Ostrander. “There are some really great people in Congress, honestly. It’s the system that’s broken. The system needs an intervention.”

And that won’t happen until or unless more Americans wake up from their stupor and recognize this as the clear and present danger it is. Ever feel your government doesn’t represent you?

That’s because it doesn’t.

— Leonard Pitts Jr.is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


Richard Heckler 3 years, 10 months ago

Perfect example of back door destruction of democracy and destruction of the USA quality of life.

Rather than serve the public interest, ALEC GOP champions the agenda of corporations which are willing to pay for access to legislators and the opportunity to write their very own legislation.

ALEC GOP helps surrogates and lobbyists for corporations to draft and promote state bills which:

  • wages war on women • gut environmental laws • create a regressive tax system • eliminate workers’ rights = lower wages • undermine universal and affordable health care • privatize public education • chip away at voting rights.


United States of ALEC http://www.democracynow.org/2012/9/27/the_united_states_of_alec_bill


Richard Heckler 3 years, 10 months ago

The USA does not need Koch/Waltons/ALEC/ Aegis Strategic/Third Way and their politicians who want to takeover local,state and federal government = one party facist system.

Their objectives are:

Killing and Owning public Education

Killing and Owning Medicare Insurance

Killing and Owning Medicaid Insurance

Killing and Owning Social Security Insurance

Killing the USA wage scale union or not by way of "Right to Work"

Further promotion of the job killing New World Order Global Economy

All financed with OUR TAX DOLLARS = no risk and profits guaranteed

Bob Smith 3 years, 10 months ago

You might recall that the Democratic candidate in the last two presidential elections refused public financing. And speaking of money and politicians: http://www.jammiewf.com/2014/shady-pal-of-bob-menendez-under-fraud-investigation-rakes-in-20-million-in-medicare-payments/

James Howlette 3 years, 10 months ago

Nobody who wanted to win would take public funding in a presidential election these days. The system is broken. I don't care which party. Get the money out.

Julius Nolan 3 years, 10 months ago

Bob, Might try linking to legitimate news site, not some right wing blog. Would give your point of view more meaning and people might read and think about what you say.

Bob Smith 3 years, 10 months ago

If your knee would quit jerking and you followed the links, you'd learn more about the world.

Julius Nolan 3 years, 10 months ago

Did follow the link, how else could I know it was a right wing blog?

James Howlette 3 years, 10 months ago

Jammie wearing fools? Come on now, Bob. Even you can't think that's the name of a serious news outlet.

Bob Smith 3 years, 10 months ago

Oh, yeah, the role of ALEC in the death of Richard III has never been fully investigated.

Grégoire Guillaume 3 years, 10 months ago

Does anyone really think that without the influence of money in politics that are nation would be on the course it is? We have real problems that mostly could be addressed if not for the special interest of the 1%. Look how we have handled the financial meltdown, the large banks are even larger and the dangers even greater. Look at big oil and the skewed energy policy of this country. Look at subsidizing corporation that take jobs overseas. The commodity market is rigged by allowing banks to own the commodities and manipulate their supply. Look at voter suppression that is based on a bogus non-existent made up problem. Look how the media is in the hands of a few corporations that can peddle whatever serves their interest at the expense of the majority of citizens. Money in politics has crippled this nation and we have become a threat to ourselves and the world.

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