April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, represented a surge of protests and activism that pushed our government to respond to "We the People" and protect our common interest over special interest groups.
The government formed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a unified Congress -- something rarely seen today -- passed countless acts to safeguard our air and water; defend consumer product safety, pesticide control, and more. And as the Watergate Scandal played out, politicians toughened electoral laws like restricting campaign spending. But by end of the 1970s, slick pro-business operatives had distorted the victories of environmental allies and anti-corruption reformers.
With the help of a tobacco industry lobbyist and soon-to-be Justice Lewis Powell, corporations turned their profit-hungry rancor into an ideological fight with spin-doctor Powell calling reformers Communists in a famous memo. Supporters of pollution regulation became welfare-mongering Commies who wanted to attack the American free enterprise system. If you believed in equal opportunity to clean air, Powell's acolytes would accuse you of hating freedom -- brushing past our country's historic efforts towards striking a balance between freedom and equality.
Corporations recognized they needed to obtain political power to really start hacking away at the "public" part of our public servants' role to protect the environment. And they did so with the help of the Supreme Court. Justice Powell, who by 1976 sat on the Supreme Court, pushed forward the doctrine of "money equating speech" in the Buckley v. Valeo ruling and later wrote a decision that said corporate donations in state ballot initiatives were protected under the first amendment as political speech.
This is how corporations that profited from clogging lungs and manufacturing leaded gasoline, which seeps into people's bloodstreams, found their moral stride. They smeared the champions of effective government, and out of Powell's legal blueprints came today's Supreme-Court-approved corporate takeover of Washington with unrestricted corporate spending in elections.
But today, millions of Americans are starting to see that big money in politics is the biggest roadblock to a fair and free government. And the campaign finance reform movement has really begun to takeoff. The Washington Post's Matea Gold headlined her front-page article this week, "Big money in politics emerges as a rising issue in 2016 campaign."
Over 30,000 people have joined the grassroots campaign, StampStampede.org, to further build momentum by legally rubber stamping their cash with anti-corruption messages like "Not to be used for bribing politicians." It's a petition on steroids -- the average stamped dollar is seen over 800 times, while the traditional petition tends to land on one person's desk. Activists are marching in the streets, bird-dogging presidential hopefuls, and contacting their legislators to demand our government prioritize "We the People" over a small percentage of well-heeled individuals and groups.
While Earth Day may signal the start of the modern environmentalist movement, activists have been fighting for air pollution restrictions since the 1920s. This day is a reminder that change takes time and work, and decades of commoditized political influence can only be undone by "We the People" through a constitutional amendment that states, "Money is not free speech -- and corporations are not people."
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