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Until we take big money out of politics, our democracy will represent corporate interests

Sen. John Marty
Sen. John Marty

Although the “Occupy Wall Street” movement’s message has been criticized for being unclear, it is beginning to sharpen its focus around demands that government begin to represent the interests of the “99 percent” instead of carrying water for corporate interests and the wealthiest 1 percent. It’s not an attempt to punish the top 1 percent; most Occupy advocates understand that we are all in this together. They are interested in a society that works for 100 percent of us.

The Occupy movement has recognized that corporate interests and the wealthiest people have heavily tilted the electoral system through massive campaign expenditures on behalf of candidates of both parties who are willing to do their bidding. Through their campaign cash and well-funded lobbyists, these interests have effectively taken control of our political process. As one deeply involved in that process, I find it stunning to see how deep and pervasive the corporate influence has become.

The anger and frustration voiced by the protesters has struck a chord with millions of Americans. In fact, the frustration that leads many to identify with the Occupy movement is similar to the frustration that earlier led many to identify with what became the Tea Party.

If Occupy Wall Street had come into being four years earlier, it is questionable whether there would ever have been a Tea Party. Many who identify with it, like many who identify with Occupy, are people who feel they are being left behind in the economy.

Worried about their finances
Their concerns aren’t political; these are simply people worried about how they will be able to pay their mortgage or rent at the beginning of the month, unsure whether they can afford college for their children, scared that they cannot afford to visit the doctor, and aware that they are just a pink slip away from unemployment and poverty.

Certainly there are huge differences between the Tea Party and Occupy movements. But even that is largely the impact of corporate power and influence.

Tea Party organizing is fueled by funding from front groups that receive money from corporate interests. Accordingly, Tea Party organizers have done the bidding of those interests, vilifying government, which once held that corporate power in check. They have effectively channeled much of the public anger over economic injustice into anger at “big government.”

A different target for anger
In contrast, the Occupy Movement has identified the source of the economic injustice as corporate greed. Like Tea Party people, they too are angry at government — but their anger is at elected officials who have allowed those corporations to operate unchecked by the government that is supposed to represent the people, not corporate interests.

These are real concerns. Hamline University professor David Davies provides an illustration of how much harder it is to get by today: Davies pointed out that in 1968, a University of Minnesota student working 6.2 hours per week during the school year, at the minimum wage, would earn enough to pay the annual tuition and fees of $385. Davies wrote, “That was back when education was considered a public good and not a private investment … back when education was for the 99 percent.”

In effect, in 1968 a full-time student working part time, even at the minimum wage, living frugally, could work her way through the U of M. Today, that’s virtually impossible. A comparable U of M student would need to work more than 46 hours per week — more than full time — during the school year to earn the $13,060 in tuition and fees, and still have nothing for books or room or board or other necessities, and obviously little time for attending classes or studying.

Ordinary people see help going elsewhere
Many ordinary people cannot afford college. They cannot afford health care. Their homes are being foreclosed in record numbers. Yet they watch their national government bailout Wall Street bankers — already the wealthiest 1 percent. They see their Minnesota state government plotting an enormous taxpayer subsidy to the MN Vikings owners — also in the top 1 percent — because the owners “need” more money.

The anger and frustration are real. The Occupy movement understands the problem. Now, it is important to channel the passion of the occupation into the nitty-gritty of grassroots democracy. As writer Scott Turow suggests, “Those in tents across the nation should start going door to door with petitions, visiting legislators and building alliances with good-government groups, all in service to a proposed (constitutional) amendment” to regulate campaign financing to prevent anyone from having unequal influence on elections through their wealth.

Until we take the big money out of politics, our democracy will represent the corporate interests, not the interests of the people. Only then will we reform our economy so that people can afford health care and college. Only then will we preserve the environment and the planet for our children and their children.

These reforms are essential for the 99 percent. And, although corporate greed may be blinding some of those who are calling the shots, in the end, these reforms are essential for the top 1 percent too.

John Marty, DFL-Roseville, is a state senator. He first published this article in his newsletter, “To the Point!” which is published by the Apple Pie Alliance

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/16/2011 - 06:55 am.

    John Marty says “Until we take big money out of politics, our democracy will represent corporate interests” Oh really? What about big union money, Mr. Marty?

    In Citizens United, SCOTUS simply gave corporations (a collection of people banded together in common purpose) the same rights as organized labor (a collection of people banded together in common purpose).

    If you want to take big money out of politics while also doing the taxpayers a favor, pass a federal law that bans public employees from being represented by labor unions. Even FDR opposed such an arrangement. It’s an obvious conflict of interest when democrat politicians, who were elected with union money and GOTV efforts, pretend to represent the taxpayers in labor negotiations. There are now hundreds of billions in unpaid liabilities due to such “negotiations.” So does the “Occupy Wall Street” message about taking big money out of politics include union money? Of course not. They’re being propped up financially and otherwise by SEIU and AFSCME, who by the way, has promised Obama $100 million of taxpayer money for his re-election campaign. Of course it’s taxpayer money, where else would public employees get the money to pay their union dues?

    But I like John Marty. It’s always entertaining to read his attempts at cause and effect. You know, like, if we only took big money out of politics, college tuition would be $385 a year (I paid about $385 per quarter back in 1968 so he has to edit that line).

  2. Submitted by myles spicer on 12/16/2011 - 09:33 am.

    Citizens United was the biggest blow to fair elections in America’s recent history (yes, Dennis, that includes union money too).

    It has now been estimated that $5.3 Billion was spent on the 2008 election (again yes Dennis, that includes Democrats as well as Republicans).
    This is obscene, and the average citizen’s voice is being drowned in a sea of money, ads, influence and worse.

    For those who agree, and want to see Citizens United reversed, I direct you to the website of Sen Bernie Sanders who has introduced a constitutional amendment to reverse the SCOTUS decision. He is seeking 80,000 signatures, and is already almost there.

  3. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/16/2011 - 10:35 am.

    I’ve never understood why it’s important that large amounts of money be able to change hands to go to politicians if services are not being purchased.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/16/2011 - 11:06 am.

    Very nobel sentiments, John. Pity Solon got the Democracy ball rolling with that property class stuff, eh?

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/16/2011 - 12:00 pm.

    “He is seeking 80,000 signatures, and is already almost there.”

    80,000? Well, no one can accuse the Senator of raising the bar to unreachable levels.

    I haven’t read the Senator’s proposal, and frankly am not willing to waste the time it takes to locate it, but I would be interested to know, myles, if the Senator’s target does include union money.

  6. Submitted by myles spicer on 12/16/2011 - 12:16 pm.

    Short answer Tom — ALL money. Period. The way it should be!

  7. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/16/2011 - 12:34 pm.

    I saw Bernie Sanders on the teevee last night, on one of the barking dog shows on PMSNBC, and he specifically said his constitutional amendment was to overturn the SCOTUS decision that gives “corporations the same power as an individual.” So yeah, he’s unconcerned about the unions having the same standing apparently.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/16/2011 - 02:24 pm.

    Well myles, that’s the right answer, but if you really believe that the influence of cold, hard cash can be eliminated from politics…well let’s just say the recorded history of mankind stands against you.

  9. Submitted by myles spicer on 12/16/2011 - 06:18 pm.

    dennis, the case decided by SCOTUS was not about money or unions, it related strictly to the concept that “corporations have the same rights as individuals” so that is the crux of the Sanders Amendment. It is specific to overturn that concept. It does however note that it is inclusive of other entities who similarily can now give money. It WOULD prevent unions as well from funding third party groups who now pour huge amounts into our elections.

  10. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/16/2011 - 08:11 pm.

    I was looking up a W.C. Field quote for #8, and found this:

    “It’s morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money.”

  11. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/16/2011 - 08:58 pm.

    I quite agree that it’s impossible to keep money out of politics. But nobody’s talking about that. John Marty’s point, which I totally agree with, is that there is far too much influence by corporate interests in the electoral process, a process which corporations have no stake. Corporations used to be deemed creatures created by the state for the public benefit. It seems now the servant has become the master under this Citizen’s United decision and can dictate terms to its master.

    Corporations now pour money into the process about 80: 1 over unions. Obviously, if we eliminate corporate influence, the balance tips in favor of individuals and perhaps unions which are only associations of individuals. That’s democracy. It’s interesting our usual right wing commenters are opposed to democracy. This opposition bespeaks their fear that their views, if allowed a fair vote without the overweening influence of corporate money, would lose in a straight up election. I have no idea why they fear that.

  12. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/17/2011 - 10:25 am.

    “Corporations now pour money into the process about 80: 1 over unions”

    I’m guessing you blushed when you saw that in print, didn’t you Jon?

    It’s OK; heat of the moment and all that.

  13. Submitted by Ed Day on 12/17/2011 - 11:29 am.

    Resident tuition at the U of M-Twin Cities was $294 per year in 1968 and $11,650 per year in 2011-12.

    http://www.oir.umn.edu/static/tuition/TuitionUMNTC.pdf

    Non-resident tuition was $840 per year in 1968, which, after accounting for fees, is probably what commenter #1 is referring to.

  14. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/17/2011 - 08:20 pm.

    @#12: I pulled a large number out the air true. But if I cited the AFL-CIO number of 19:1 would it make any difference?

    http://www.aflcio.org/issues/states/upload/Paycheck_Deception_Overview_1-cmo.pdf

    Technically, there is a difference I suppose between influencing elections and lobbying to influence elected and appointed officials. Personally, I see no difference. I’ve seen reports by large corporations which claim that only actual “face-to-face” time with a person counts as lobbying. Total BS. Do you really believe that the political system is not totally corrupt and tilted heavily in favor of the 1% interests which control the corporate interests and other property in the US?

  15. Submitted by James Hamilton on 12/18/2011 - 06:37 pm.

    852 words and not one about how Sen. Marty proposes to accomplish his goal.

    Money has controlled American politics since before our Constitution was ratified and will continue to do so long into the future. Unfortunately, this idea had been rejected by the dominant school of historians by the ’60s, in favor of an intellectual approach which emphasizes an idealistic/heroic approach to founding of this country and the drafting of the Constitution a decade later. Chances are that the majority of us under the age of 65 were schooled under the latter model and haven’t considered any alternatives since. The fact is, however,that the rules under which this nation operates were written by the wealthy, to address the concerns of the wealthy.

    Most of us simply prefer to believe in a Utopian dream of representative democracy. While we’ve made progress on paper, we have a very long way to go in the real world.

    Many of us in the 99% forget the extent to which we benefit along with corporate entities. Our pensions (those that remain) our 401Ks and other forms of savings (retirement or otherwise) ultimately depend upon the continuing success of corporate America.

    This is not to say that “what is good for General Motors is good for America.” That has never been true in every case. We do, however, have many aligned interests. The way to bring those interests further into alignment, in my opinion, is for those of us who vote to develop approaches which:

    reign in lobbying (see http://www.dailyfinance.com/2011/12/13/30-major-u-s-companies-spent-more-on-lobbying-than-taxes/)

    close revolving Congressional doors (e.g. Mr. Gingrich), and

    ensure that no corporation or individual receives the benefit of public services without contributing to their cost.

    No corporation should go a year in which it earns a profit and avoids paying taxes, just as no individual should have income in a year and not pay a single dollar in taxes. For my part, I’ll propose a universal alternative minimum tax of 1% on us all, just to get the ball rolling.

    Obviously, there are a great many other things to be addressed, including laws that prevent corporate board members and executives from considering anything other than the corporate bottom line in their dealings.

    Those of us with vested interests in mega-corporations and who want to see changes have an obligation to speak up ouside the polling booth and, to the extent possible, in the corporate boardrooms.

    Shelving my soapbox for now, with this final request: if you want to complain about financial and political inequities in the U.S, fine. Just be sure to include some useful suggestions on how to go about correcting those inequities instead of simply whining about how unfair it all is.

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