Trends continue to allow dollars, not voters, to elect our leaders.
In the summer of 2008, a 90-minute political documentary, produced by the conservative group Citizens United, was scheduled for release during the Democratic Party presidential primaries. This documentary aimed to portray Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as one of the most divisive and damaging figures in America.
Unable to gain airtime through conventional methods such as national broadcasting and cable networks, Citizens United made the decision to purchase airtime to broadcast its political film. A federal court blocked this action, deciding that this documentary was, in fact, a long campaign ad. Therefore, cost associated with making and marketing this documentary became classified as a "political campaign contribution by a corporation," and therefore subject to campaign financing reform law. Citizens United appealed that decision all the way to the Supreme Court.
A Little History
In 1907, Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina sponsored the bill that became known as the Tillman Act of 1907. This bill argues that monetary contributions by corporations to political campaigns can affect the results of an election as much, if not more than, average voters. Even over a century ago, our lawmakers were aware of the influence of political campaign ads on voters. These crude ads, in print or caricature, are designed to provide a narrow and biased viewpoint filled with half-truths. Such campaigns do not have much affect on politically savvy voters, but prove very effective with politically unaware voters. Unfortunately, the latter account for an overwhelming majority of voters. Over the last hundred years, the marketing industry has evolved into an exact science and marketing campaigns have become extremely skilled at targeting this unaware majority.
Unions: Dismantle or Overhaul
Unions have been hard to love in the past two decades. Certain union policies, such as unsustainable pension plans or restriction of employer's right to fire or layoff employees due to lack of productivity, breed contempt in an increasingly competitive global market. Many blame union organizations and leaders for their inability to self govern, socialist views, and complete disregard for the ultimate goal in business—earning a profit comparable to the level of risk involved. It's no secret that unions are out of touch with current times. But, they are still essential to maintaining a healthy middle class. Regardless of their flaws, labor unions helped build the American middle class.
Income Inequality: Us vs the Rest of the World
With the decline of middle class size and wages, the income inequality in America is rising at an alarming rate. The United States, which historically has been known for its broad and strong middle class, is now ranked as one of the worst in income inequality among members of the United Nations. Sadly, many financial analysts predict that this trend will continue worsen for the U.S.
Back to the Supreme Court Ruling
In January 2010, following a Citizens United appeal, our Supreme Court justices, in a 5-4 decision, overturned the Tillman act of 1907 and allowed companies and unions to use unlimited funds to produce their own campaign ads. The decision also eliminated the McCain-Feingold ban on issue-oriented ads within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election, plus two of the high court's own decisions from 1990 and 2003. This decision gives corporations and the top 1 percent an unfair advantage over average Americans who can't contribute millions of dollars to help elect a political candidate who is sympathetic to their agendas. Any politician knows that the key to winning elections is effective fund raising and hiring the best campaign strategist money can buy. They either have to win a popularity contest among millions of ordinary citizens or just a handful of elite citizens with very deep pockets. Keep in mind that when the wealthy invest large sums of money on a candidate, it is with the expectation of legislative reciprocation.
Wisconsin Recall Election of 2012
Last month Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was forced into a recall election. Gov. Walker, who has openly vowed to neutralize the bargaining power of labor and teacher unions, won his recall election by a 6 percent margin thanks to massive funding for his campaign from rich, out-of-state contributors. According to National Public Radio, Gov. Walker’s campaign raised more than $31 million dollars (the largest sum ever raised for any election in Wisconsin history), with an average of over $10,000 per donor. Two-thirds of the money came from less than 100 out-of-state rich individuals who detest labor unions. This election result was a sad demonstration that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling has dramatically altered the balance of power in American politics—where the voice of roughly 2500 individuals overpowered the voice of over 900,000 Wisconsinites and labor unions who petitioned for a new election. This election was a clear blow to the political clout of the 99 percent and a clear victory for the 1 percent billionaire club members.
Conclusion and Lessons
Our great democracy is in danger of becoming hijacked by a sudden shift in political contribution. On this month’s anniversary of U.S. independence from British monarchy, let’s remember that this great nation was established by a group of citizens who sought refuge from an ironclad 1 percent who controlled most of the wealth. Abraham Lincoln said, "All men are created equal and should be treated as such." American democracy is defined as: "The government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
A government consisting of politicians who are bought by the rich, to make them richer at the expense of the middle class and poor is going back to dark ages of monarchy.