We are in the thick of presidential primary season in the U.S. By all means, educate yourself and vote for candidates who support tax and economic reforms that target predatory practices by corporations. Don’t vote and stop there though. Know that we the people must make the change. “They” won’t fix the system, so we must do it.
Once elected, federal officials often don’t follow through on their promises because they discover that they are powerless against huge corporations and their lobbyists. Campaign financing takes democracy out of the hands of the people. As my Boston University professor, bestselling author, and friend Howard Zinn told me, “We vote, but those we elect don’t seem to listen to us anymore. They obey the commands of the people who finance their campaigns, corporate lobbyists.” Even candidates who vow not to accept money from special interest groups often cave in at the end when money drives the political machines and the attack ads become overwhelming. And even if a candidate does not succumb, once elected he or she has to deal with all the other ones who did—and their lobbyists.
In my new book The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, I talk about the incredible power of lobbyists. For example, in 2013 their ranks officially numbered 12,281—that’s 23 lobbyists for every member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. That number, however, is deceptive. Thousands more go unlisted, calling themselves “political advisors,” “consultants,” and by other misleading titles. Research by American University professor James Thurber, an expert in lobbying for more than three decades, suggests that the true number of working lobbyists is closer to 100,000. Official figures indicate that annual spending to support lobbyist campaigns was more than $3 billion in 2013, but Thurber estimates that it was closer to $9 billion.
It is imperative that we get money out of campaigns. Our democractic process is supposed to be one person, one vote. But right now, the political power of corporate executives in fact is worth a lot more than hundreds of votes. The 2010 Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling disallowed limits on political contributions by corporations and labor unions. This is not only a travesty of a system based on the principles of a democratic republic—it is also taking us down the slippery path into plutocracy.
We all must take this as a personal affront. We must act.
One such action is to support the Movement to Amend Citizen’s United. An easy way to get the latest information on them and other actions you can take is through www.Pachamama.org (of which I’m a co-founder). The state of campaign financing is a cancer on our electoral process, and we have to cut out that cancer. Mobilizations like the Movement to Amend have been tremendously successful in the past. They have ended apartheid in South Africa, cleaned up polluted U.S. rivers, helped get labels for the nutritional contents of foods, and placed more women and minorities in executive offices. Recently such movements have caused increases in the minimum wage, the legalization of marijuana in several states, and laws that allow for same-sex marriages. There are many reasons not to be discouraged.
Local governments offer other options. Unlike national officials, local officials do have power. Look at how your local officials deal with companies that want to move into your town. Do they dole out huge tax breaks to entice companies while taking money away from local education and healthcare? Or do they expect the companies to pay their fare share? Local school boards are also powerful and can influence curriculum and how far into schools corporations can reach through sports-team sponsorships, branded vending machines, advertisements on school busses and more.
The marketplace is a democracy, if we choose to use it as such. Every time we buy something, we cast a vote. Buy goods and services from (and invest in) businesses that are committed to making a better world. Let businesses know why you choose to shop there—or choose not to—through emails, phone calls and social media. With today’s access to the power of social media it is easier than ever to organize massive consumer campaigns. They work.
We all have to participate—that is what the principles of democracy are all about. In this election year, commit to actively participating, to being heard. One of the most important ways to participate is to confront the corporatocracy. Along with voting, take a stand against campaign financing and hold your local officials to task when it comes to how they deal with powerful corporations.