Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Koch Bros. and the Need to Reclaim Democracy

When I heard about the Koch Brothers' plans to spend close to a billion dollars in the 2016 elections, I was livid. The following facebook rant emerged, which I have slightly modified and reposted below.
I try not to rant much on facebook. I post political pieces, and definitely have a partisan outlook in what I contribute. But this moment deserves a rant.
On Monday Jan. 26, the Koch Brothers announced plans to spend $889 million to influence the 2016 elections. That is close to a BILLION dollars by two individuals and their allies to influence our shared political system for their personal financial gain.
Regardless of your political orientation or personal beliefs about governing philosophy, I do not see how you can believe this is just. This is a fundamental corruption of our democracy and our country. This amount of spending, which is at the SAME LEVEL as the Democrats and the Republicans, destroys any notion that we have a fair system. If you have the money, you can buy the message, control the narrative, control the politicians, and effectively force your agenda into the national debate, public will be damned.
The first act of the new Senate is to approve an oil pipeline that will create 35 permanent jobs. 35 jobs, for a metal pipe that transports some of the dirtiest oil in the world. Is this really the biggest priority facing our country? One might thinking that rising economic inequality, rapid climate disruption, or the stagnating education system might demand a bit more attention. But instead it's a pipeline, which happens to benefit two people in particular - the Kochs.
According to one measure of influence, the Koch's had the same political influence as 515,000 union members due to their spending of $400 million during the 2012 elections. But the Koch influence on our politics isn't immediately obvious because of the secret ways the Brothers spend their money. This ProPublica interactive graphic on Koch "Dark Money" shows the byzantine way that the Brothers spent $264 million through 30+ non-profit entities from mid-2011 to October 2012.

The Koch Brothers are not the only people corrupting our democracy. In many ways, the unfair influence of money in politics has already corrupted politicians so much that the line between "legal bribery" of campaign contributions and "illegal bribery" has blurred. Zephyr Teachout argues that campaign contributions are the "gateway drug to bribes... where candidates are trained to respond to campaign cash and serve donors' interests... the structure of private campaign finance has essentially pre-corrupted our politicians, so that they can't even recognize explicit bribery because it feels the same as what they do every day."
This has to stop. If you believe in climate justice, if you believe that ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬, if you believe that Wall Street is too powerful, if you believe in women's rights, or if you believe that government should actually serve the PEOPLE rather than rich campaign donors, then it's time to get money out of politics. A more progressive future is simply not possible without fundamental reforms in our democracy.
Last week, my friend Katherine and 6 others boldly spoke out at the Supreme Court during the 5th Anniversary of the Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that allows virtually unlimited spending by outside political groups (which led to the creation of SuperPACs). Katherine and the protesters were tackled, hauled off to jail, and kept without food for 36 hours. Their story has widely resonated, being published in the New York Times, The Economist, the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. You can see video of their protest here.
I deeply believe in the potential of this country and of democracy. I deeply believe that people can come together and shape our future, that we can chart a course towards greater justice and peace. But this cannot happen without fair elections. Democracy ceases to exist when the wealthy control the levers of power.
It's time for this movement to get money out of politics.. It's time to reclaim democracy. This won't happen overnight, and it likely won't happen to stop the $889 million in Koch money from corrupting the 2016 election. But we can and must come together to separate wealth and state. With time, we can build the power needed to enact a new Constitutional Amendment, pass new legislation, and change the rules of our democracy. But it starts with us.
If you believe that we need to take back our democracy, sign the democracy pledge of resistance. Then, talk to your friends, your family, your church, your business, your school, and your community. Tell them why you care. Invite them to participate in this movement. 8 in 10 Americans believe we should limit campaign contributions by outside groups. Most likely your friends already agree that we need to get money out of politics. It's your job to get them to act.
Facebook rant complete. Now, back to organizing.

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