Yesterday, TheNew York Times dropped an investigative bombshell that confirmed in detail what most of us already know: The ultra-rich are in control of our electoral process.
As the Times reports, just 158 families have contributed nearly half of all the money raised so far for the numerous presidential campaigns. “Not since before Watergate,” the story states, “have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago.”
Not surprisingly, these donors are overwhelmingly white, male, old, Republican, and rich—very, very rich. These are the people who have made their wealth by cashing in on the under-regulated frontiers of fracking and speculative finance. And they are backing candidates who will ensure that their interests are kept at the front of the agenda.
“[R]egardless of industry, the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programs. While such measures would help protect their own wealth, the donors describe their embrace of them more broadly, as the surest means of promoting economic growth and preserving a system that would allow others to prosper, too.”
Most of these donors are concentrated around only nine cities, and if you combine the neighborhoods—elite, mostly white enclaves—that these political benefactors live in, it would be roughly equivalent to the area of New Orleans. Here’s a great breakdown of just where these donors come from, and how they’ve made their fortunes.
We’ve known for some time now that the mega-rich, who have a very specific political agenda, have captured the campaign-finance system. This investigation serves, however, to turn that notion from an abstract to a very tangible concept and brings these political power-players out from the shadows.
Yesterday, at a campaign event in Iowa Republican contender Jeb Bush said he didn’t think the Voting Rights Act—a cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement—should be reauthorized by Congress after the conservative Supreme Court gutted it in 2013.
Here’s exactly what he had to say: “If it’s to reauthorize it to continue to provide regulations on top of states as though we’re living in 1960, because those were basically when many of those rules were put in place, I don’t believe we should do that. There’s been dramatic improvement in access to voting, exponentially better improvement, and I don’t think there’s a role for the federal government to play in most places.”
On this issue, Jeb is not only straying from his brother’s position—given that George W. Bush signed reauthorization of the VRA in 2006—but he’s also outflanking the Republican’s resident crazy-talker, Ben Carson.
As the CNN reported yesterday, a policy divide has emerged within the party on the issue of restoring and protecting voter rights. "Of course I want the Voting Rights Act to be protected. Whether we still need it or not or whether we've outgrown the need for it is questionable," Carson told CNN. "Maybe we have, maybe we haven't. But I wouldn't jeopardize it."
For The Nation, Ari Berman explained exactly why Jeb Bush’s notion that the VRA is no longer necessary is an absolute abomination. From 1965 to 2013, the section of the VRA that was struck down by the Supreme Court had stopped 3,000 discriminatory voting changes from happening. One only needs to look at what Alabama did last week to refute Bush. Berman also notes that in the past four years alone, 468 new voting restrictions have cropped up in 49 states—one of the most severe was in Jeb’s home state of Florida.
“It’s sad, but not surprising, that the same guy who said African Americans just wanted ‘free stuff’ from the government is now claiming that the VRA, the country’s most important civil-rights law, is no longer necessary,” Berman writes.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik President Barack Obama speaks during a conversation co-hosted by Coworker.org at the White House Summit on Worker Voice, Wednesday, October 7, 2015, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. N obody knew quite what to expect at Wednesday’s White House Summit on Worker Voice, which brought labor leaders, worker rights organizations, low-wage workers, and “high-road” employers together to talk about how to ease workers’ path toward collective action. Some labor advocates openly worried that the focus of the event would skew toward newer organizing avenues and cast collective bargaining as a clunky relic of labor’s past. Others were skeptical about the authenticity of the event, wondering if, in light of the recent agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, this was just the White House’s attempt at appeasing disgruntled labor leaders. But for many in attendance, those apprehensions were allayed. “I am a big believer … of collective bargaining...
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a rally after the New York Wage Board endorsed a proposal to set a $15 minimum wage for workers at fast-food restaurants with 30 or more locations, Wednesday, July 22, 2015 in New York. S an Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced today that they would chair a 2016 initiative campaign to raise the minimum wage in America’s mega-state to $15 by 2021. Signatures are currently being collected to qualify the measure, which was initiated by SEIU and has been endorsed by more than 100 other organizations, for the November ’16 ballot. The measure would raise the statewide minimum to $11 by 2017 and by a dollar a year thereafter until 2021 , after which it would be indexed to the annual cost of living increase. A recent survey by the Field Poll (whose track record makes it perhaps the nation’s most accurate) found 68 percent support among California voters for such a measure. California, it’s worth...
While Bernie isn’t short on rhetoric about getting money out of politics, he remains curiously short on specifics.
For the past couple months, I’ve been chronicling the emerging debate over the role of money in politics and the increased calls for campaign-finance reform within the Democratic field. The most notable development in the political discourse on the left has been a move beyond the boilerplate talking points about overturning Citizens United toward a commitment to a public funding mechanism for federal elections—a policy point that campaign-finance reform advocates have become more adamant about.
As government reformer Zephyr Teachout told me in an interview back in July (before any candidate had really talked much about public funding), “We’re not going to let any candidates get away with saying that they’re pro-reform unless they’re talking about public financing.”
A couple weeks ago, Hillary Clinton came out with a highly ambitious campaign-finance reform plan. Then last week, Martin O’Malley unveiled his own detailed plan.
This raises the question: Where in the world is Bernie’s plan? More than any candidate, he’s been calling for reducing the influence of money in politics. Yet he hasn’t really specified exactly how he intends to do that. His campaign website has a policy section called “Getting Big Money Out of Politics,” but it’s rather sparse. Two of his listed key actions include his introduction of legislation to overturn Citizens United and a pledge to only appoint justices who are committed to rolling back the Roberts jurisprudence on campaign-finance reform. Another is the fact that he voted for the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would work to uncover dark money, which nearly got passed before a last-minute Republican filibuster.
Sanders has an advantage in that he can use his senatorial record and the legislation he introduced to serve as a surrogate to a patchwork of detailed policy papers. For example, while Clinton pledged to pass an executive order that would require federal contractors to disclose dark-money spending, Sanders was one of a handful of senators who wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to sign an order of his own.
He also announced early in August that he would introduce legislation that would institute public funding for federal elections—his office says that small-donor matching is a tenet of the proposed bill. However, it’s been about two months and we’ve yet to see any specifics on it.
Seeing the language of the bill would help us see just how robust a public-finance system Sanders envisions. Senator Dick Durbin has already introduced the Fair Elections Act in the Senate, which would institute a public-finance system for federal elections—it will be interesting to see whether a Sanders plan would be different.
However, I find it curious that Sanders has yet to set in stone a money-in-politics plan. While the other two candidates have already staked out very strong policies that are pulled from reformers’ wish lists, having clarified policies on everything from FEC reform and SEC disclosure rules to independent redistricting, Bernie needs to push out some bold specifics if he wants to maintain his brand as the money-in-politics reformer of the race.