Cross-posted from Reader Supported News
By *Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News
How can our elected officials represent their constituents when they're given millions to represent someone else? Why is it legal for corporations and the wealthy to buy politicians? And what can we do to correct a system that's become nakedly corrupt?
Bob McDonnell, former governor of Virginia, and his wife are now facing years in jail after being convicted of accepting over $177,000 in bribes from a business executive who was provided greater access to government as a result of his gifts. The closeness that the first family had to their sponsor reached the point where Gov. McDonnell would casually text Star Scientific executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a dietary supplement magnate, for a $20,000 loan, which Williams happily provided. McDonnell later returned the favor by emailing an aide to talk about "Anatabloc issues" (a product of Williams' company) minutes after getting an entirely separate $50,000 loan from Williams. But McDonnell is just the most recent example in a long string of cravenly greedy and self-centered politicians.
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who is running for his third election in four years, has become a symbol of corruption in the Midwest. In 2011, mining company Gogebic Taconite (GTac) proposed an open-pit mine in Northern Wisconsin's Penokee Hills that would be four-and-a-half miles long, half a mile wide, and 1,000 feet deep. The bill that would have allowed the mine required an extensive rewrite of Wisconsin's mining regulations. Indigenous communities like the Anishinaabe Nation, who inhabit the land that would be mined, were intentionally left out of the negotiation process when the bill was making its way through committee hearings, which is a violation of international treaty rights. The state's mining regulations were finally rewritten in 2013.
New documents have now revealed that Gov. Walker was himself encouraging corporations and large donors to support his recall election by donating to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, an outside group that was run by one of Walker's campaign advisers. One of those corporate donors was GTac, which donated $700,000 to the Club for Growth. The Club for Growth then distributed those funds to pro-Walker groups. Walker cruised to victory in the recall, and is now actively soliciting more corporate donations for his 2014 re-election, and is likely to try running for president in 2016 if he wins. The process is simple -- a company wants a new bill that will increase their profits, and they donate to the guy who signs the bills, who then signs the bill after the check clears.
In another clear example of bribery, Gov. Walker gave Ashley Furniture a $6 million tax break that allowed the Wisconsin-based company to fire half of its in-state workforce. Ashley Furniture's executives then donated a combined $20,000 to Walker's re-election campaign. Walker's "Open For Business" signs at Wisconsin state borders evidently have a hidden meaning -- for the right price, businesses can have access to anything in Wisconsin.
Not to be outdone, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor just secured a vice chairman gig at investment bank Moelis, allowing him to pocket over $3 million. Cantor has never once held any prior position in managing investments and has no experience in the financial sector. However, he was Wall Street's #1 favored member of the U.S. House of Representatives while he was in office, according to OpenSecrets.org.
In the last election cycle alone, Wall Street donated $1.8 million to Cantor's campaign. And throughout Cantor's political career, he received over $8.9 million from the financial sector. Unsurprisingly, Cantor was an outspoken opponent of any new taxes or regulations on big banks. Elizabeth Warren called out Cantor for taking the job, calling it evidence that members of Congress vote based on how it will affect their future career hopes and personal wealth, rather than voting on what's best for constituents.
But the bribing of politicians isn't just limited to one party -- Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff for President Obama, is openly rewarding campaign donors with public money. Rahm's top campaign contributor in the last campaign cycle was the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, to whom he later gave a $100 million tax break roughly a year later. It was recently discovered that Rahm cut Chicago retirees' pensions by over $300 million to add to a slush fund meant exclusively for corporate subsidies, which ultimately went to campaign contributors.
Rahm has since dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars in Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) to privately-owned Depaul University for a new football stadium, and to the Marriott hotel chain, who used it for an exclusive new hotel in Chicago's South Loop. TIF money is normally meant for public schools, yet Rahm Emanuel gave out TIF money elsewhere while shuttering over 50 public schools during his tenure as mayor.
It's clear that money has corrupted our political process. But this is precisely because we've allowed corporations to have the same constitutional rights as actual human beings, and their money to be considered the same thing as free speech. By definition, this means that if you have more money, you have more speech. And if you have no money, you effectively have no political speech. This is why politicians like Bob McDonnell, Scott Walker, Eric Cantor, and Rahm Emanuel do favors for their top donors and ignore the people's calls for more investments in education, healthcare, and transportation.
This Monday, the U.S. Senate is voting on SJR-19, a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United and McCutcheon Supreme Court decisions that removed limits on campaign spending. However, this amendment is little more than election-year bluster, as SJR-19 leaves corporate constitutional rights and the concept of money as free speech entirely intact. The measure is supported exclusively by Democrats, who are trying their best to appeal to America's populist nature to keep their jobs this November. Even if SJR-19 were to pass, Americans would soon see a continuation of corporations and big money donors currying the favor of Congress as a result of the gaping loopholes in the resolution, and Democrats would then simply point the finger at Republicans, saying they tried to do something, but the Republicans wouldn't let them.
Americans are just as tired of finger-pointing and half-measures as they are of bribery disguised as campaign support. If we want to stop the cycle of corruption, we have to amend our Constitution to state explicitly that corporations aren't people, and that money is not speech. If we can accomplish this, we can start to see actual representative government in America.
*Carl Gibson, 27, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nonviolent grassroots movement that mobilized thousands to protest corporate tax dodging and budget cuts in the months leading up to Occupy Wall Street. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary We're Not Broke, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Carl is also the author of How to Oust a Congressman, an instructional manual on getting rid of corrupt members of Congress and state legislatures based on his experience in the 2012 elections in New Hampshire. He lives in Sacramento, California.