Money has always bought influence in American politics. Rarely has it bought so much so quickly as it has over this last year.
One year after Citizens United v. FEC, when the Supreme Court opened American elections to a corporate spending free-for-all, elected officials in Washington and in statehouses around the country are pushing a stunning set of financial policies that, if passed, will provide a windfall for giant corporations at the expense of already-hurting individual taxpayers. Largely proposed under the guise of financial responsibility, these proposals threaten job creation and essential government services while ensuring the coffers of corporations remain untouched.
American taxpayers are beginning to fight back against some of the most egregious proposals, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to bust public employee unions and the House GOP's slashing of funding for women's health care. But as long as corporations can buy unlimited political influence, these battles will only escalate and they will continue to be just as lopsided.
In the coming weeks, we will see the interests of corporate funders and the interests of individual taxpayers go head-to-head as Congress and the president attempt to hammer out a continuing spending resolution that will keep the government running for the rest of the year. The Republican House wants to block funds to reproductive health services, gut the Affordable Care Act, and even prevent the Environmental Protection Bureau from regulating pollution -- all while costing an estimated 700,000 American jobs. The winners in the House's proposal? Large corporations and the wealthy, who under the proposal astoundingly would not even be asked to give up a single tax loophole.
This is not what American voters signed up for in 2010. But it is what corporate campaign spenders invested in. The 2010 elections were the most expensive midterm elections in American history, with an unprecedented amount of the money spent coming from outside groups that by a 2-1 margin supported right-wing candidates. These groups included a few social conservative stalwarts but most were organizations -- like the Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity, and American Crossroads -- intent on electing corporate-friendly candidates to federal office. Groups like the Chamber that did not disclose the sources of their funding supported these candidates by a whopping 6-1 margin.
This corporate influence in elections is not surprising -- it's simply the logical outcome of entities that are legally bound to act solely to maximize profits being allowed to have an outsized voice in democracy. And the corporate interests that spent money on the 2010 elections are seeing a powerful return on their investments: the federal and state officials who they helped elect are eagerly repaying the favor... all while hiding under the blanket of misinformation that corporate spending in 2010 helped to spread.
In December, shortly before the new Congress took its seats, Senate Republicans attempted to block a bill providing health coverage to first responders injured in their service after the 9/11 attacks. The bill, which was fully paid for by closing a tax loophole for foreign corporations, had a powerful enemy: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which along with its blockbuster lobbying spending had just dropped $32 million to help elect a new Republican majority in the House and a stronger minority in the Senate. Eventually, public outcry was so strong that Senate Republicans dropped their hold on the bill. But the message it sent about their priorities was clear.
The 9/11 first responders issue was a clear-cut instance of the needs of corporations taking precedence over the needs of Americans. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. The corporate free-for-all continues as the new pro-corporate majority continues to cater to its funders but not its voters. While claiming to be working in the interests of "fiscal responsibility" the radically pro-corporate wing of the Republican Party is slashing the rights and opportunities of working Americans while letting big business get away scot free.
The relationship of money and power is nothing new to American politics. But never before has money had such power to spread misinformation, sway elections, and create a political system that works for the most powerful while ignoring the needs of the working and middle classes. Americans can fight each of these battles individually. But ultimately we need to fundamentally change our system so corporations are no longer entitled to all the influence they can buy.
Follow Michael B. Keegan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/peoplefor