THE BLOG

How to Invest in a Better World

01/11/2012 02:51 pm ET | Updated Mar 12, 2012

If you are like most people, you have been impacted by the downturn in the global economy. Yet if you are like most Americans, you haven't stopped giving. You may think big corporations do the most charitable giving because they blow their own horns about it for advertising purposes, but it's really all of us average people who keep charitable works happening, even when we are paying higher tax rates than many corporations and the richest Americans, and even when our giving comes with personal sacrifice.

For a breakdown on charitable giving in America see this Executive Summary of the Giving USA Foundation Report for 2010.

But charitable donations aren't enough to keep a society functioning fully. Even in my wealthy suburban town, the painful ramifications of an anemic national and state tax base are painfully evident. School children suffer from yet another year of the freeze on new textbooks and have to share outdated versions. The fire station fights to stay in operation. The library is open fewer hours. A Veteran's home nearby is less than half occupied despite a long-waiting list, because there are not enough funds for services.

If you watched the Republican debates or simply read the recaps, you know that the Republicans are down on government providing social services. They think it's good policy to keep taxes low on the ultra rich and corporations so that these folks will create jobs, and somehow we won't need public social services. Oh, and the corporations will regulate themselves. There are a few problems with this plan. First, the ultra rich and corporations are being taxed at historically low rates NOW, and may even pay at lower rates than the middle class; they aren't creating jobs; and they aren't funding our social services. They are sending their money overseas. They are fighting regulations that protect average consumers, average borrowers, average people who live with the daily ramifications of pollution, crime and sickness. And we have all seen what regulatory failure brings us: oil spills, financial crisis and water we can't drink. EVERY American, even the 1% , needs some social services. We all need police and fire protection. We all need breathable air and drinkable water and food that is not tainted. We all need an education system that works to create employable people who will be good citizens.

Americans who believe in public services and regulation for such benefits as a clean environment, fair banking, and consumer protection, are forced to spend lots of money to make sure the wild west policy proposed by the Republican candidates doesn't recapture the White House. We are still trying to recover from the George W. Bush years of looting by Halliburton and other cronies who took America's resources without fair competition, regulation or punishment for misdeeds.

The cost of campaigns keeps escalating because there is so much money to be made by the ultra rich and corporations with their guy in office. The Supreme Court threw a big bone to these players with the Citizens United decision that calls secret political contributions by corporations protected "political speech."

Steve Bullock, Attorney General of Montana, doesn't want this game played in his state. He argued against the application of the Citizen's United holding in his state where campaign finance laws have kept the price of a successful campaign for a seat in the Montana legislature down to around 17,000. The Montana rules against corporate influence in state elections came from public demand and a referendum after a history of copper barons buying office. "Montana has a long history of corporate influence in elections, and ultimately the citizens are saying, no, that's not how we want to run our elections."

Bullock won his argument before the Montana Supreme Court that Citizen's United does not apply to Montana's state elections. But even the dissenting voice in that case who felt that there was no exception carved out for state elections in the Citizen's United decision, had harsh words for that U.S. Supreme Court decision.

"Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people -- human beings -- to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creatures of government," Justice James C. Nelson wrote in his reluctant dissent. And in a supreme diss to the Supreme Court's judgment, Nelson's dissent continues: "Worse still, while corporations and human beings share many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons," he wrote.

Montana has the right idea in restricting corporate financing of their elections. Consider how much money is wasted in waging state and federal elections and how it could be better spent. Consider how much time our leaders must spend building up coffers for their next election instead of governing.

And what are we getting for the dollars we spend to send our representatives to Washington and to elect our president? Well, because of all the corrupt buying of influence that got many of them there, we are getting paralysis, with refusal to negotiate, protectionism of the highest donors (oil industry, banking industry...), and not much more.

We will not get good government until we get campaign spending limits in state and federal elections. There is no other way to keep our politicians from merely doing the bidding of their
highest donors. Furthermore, we will not have adequately funded public services until the rich pay their fair share to America. America is great because of three sectors that should support each other: profit-making industry, public services provided by our government, and a robust nonprofit sector that often addresses needs not met by the other two.

So for now, while we endure this election racket, please make sure that you:

(1) Spend as much money directly on charitable giving as you spend on political campaigns. Consider what you hold most dear and give to a nonprofit, local, national or global, that protects that cause. Charity Navigator can help you determine where your money will be spent efficiently and effectively on that cause. There is a lot of good work being done, even while there is gridlock in Washington.

And for a government that works for all of us, Invest your political capital as a voter as follows:

(2) Demand Campaign Finance Reform in your state and in federal elections; and

(3) Demand Higher Tax Collections from corporate America and the wealthiest Americans.