Friday, June 26, 2015

A personal argument against business money in politics

The message in this election cycle, whether implicit or explicit, is corporate money. The Koch Brothers have made it known that they are going to raise more than $900 million for this election. Both major parties are going to raise almost a billion or more to support their candidate for president. Much of that money is from corporations.

Supporters of Fast Track, or Trade Promotion Authority for President Obama have showered this Congress with $200 million on that issue alone. $200 million to say, "You're going to listen to us rather than the people protesting in the streets against it."

Here is the rub. Corporations who contribute to political campaigns have customers. They are making anonymous contributions when and wherever they can. They are making an implicit assumption that their customers either will never know what they're doing or, their customers agree with what they're doing. This is wrong.

Just because I bought your product doesn't mean I agree with your politics.

I know this is going to seem like an incredible segue, so bear with me. I am reminded of the court case, Munn v. Illinois. I'm a fan of that case (a fan? really?) because it demonstrates how we have come to rely upon business for our basic needs like food, water, electricity and shelter. The case concerns grain silos situated between a lake and a railroad. The crux of the matter in the case was whether or not the owners of the silos needed a license to operate them, to make them available to the public to use for a fee.

The opinion notes that when we put property up for hire in a business, we become subject to the police power. The reason for this is that once people become dependent on that property, even if they're paying for use of it, their lives can be disrupted if the property is taken out of use. It doesn't matter why that could happen, the point is, regulation under the police power is designed to ensure consistency in pricing and availability.

This need for regulation under the police power is especially true of networks used for "carriage", like railroads, bridges, tollways, copper and fiber. This is also true of mercantile establishments - think Best Buy and Safeway. There is one other area contemplated for regulation by the police power: monopolies.

AT&T was a government sanction monopoly before its breakup in the 1980s. They were regulated by the police power. Municipal water and power is regulated by the police power as local monopolies. Any business that requires a license is subject to the police power with the ultimate aim of maintaining peace and order in the markets. The license provides some measure of accountability, transparency and consistency.

Most of the big businesses we engage with today are monopolies or quasi-monopolies. The biggest ISPs are a network of local monopolies wherever they happen to do business. They never actually compete with each other and depending on where we live, we really don't have much choice. For example, I have only one choice for an ISP with a wired connection to my home, Centurylink. Is it fair for Centurylink to establish and maintain a local monopoly, with a captive audience, and use a part of their profits to discourage municipal broadband in my city? I don't think so.

90% of the media is owned by 6 parent corporations that pretend to be competing. Whenever we pay the cable bill for TV, we're paying them. Whenever we buy movies or music, we're paying them. It's hard to go elsewhere for content unless, YouTube, Vimeo or The Pirate Bay are enough. Wait. Unless you rent a virtual private network, you're never going to see The Pirate Bay. But when we buy content, Spiderman, Frozen, CSI or, god forbid, Nickelback, we're paying those parent corporations. They are using their profits to make campaign contributions to fight causes we might not necessarily support. You know, like stronger copyright and patent protections in the Trans Pacific Partnership.

90% of what we buy on the store shelves is produced by 10 parent corporations pretending to compete with each other. General Mills, Kellogg, Nabisco, Pepsi to name a few. They don't like the idea that they might have to label genetically modified foods. But they're pumping all kinds of money, money we may have spent on their products, into campaigns to prohibit cities, counties and states from requiring the labeling of GMO foods.

What about the oil companies? A few really big companies provide 90% of the oil we consume as gas and diesel in our cars. You probably know them-  BP, Shell, Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips - just five major corporations. They make huge profits in this country and worldwide. They are also using their profits to fight anti-carbon regulation, to support global warming deniers and to support wars in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and eventually, Iran. Their agenda isn't necessarily ours, yet with their monopoly power, we have almost zero choice but to buy their products and watch as they buy Congress and the President.

This is why corporations and businesses that are not corporations, should not be allowed to make contributions to political campaigns of any kind. If you want to use your own after tax contributions to make a small contribution that's fine. Corporate profits should be off limits.

There is a famous Republican who agrees with me: Teddy Roosevelt. What did he have to say about corporations in politics?
"All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law."
He knew well the power and profit of corporations and fought hard to limit their power so that the source of their power, The People, could not be usurped and used against them. That kind of Republican is gone today. Republicans (and many Democrats) simply lack the will to resist the temptation of corporate money.

Is it right for a corporation to take our trust in them for a product we like enough to buy, one that we might even be loyal to, and use those profits to support political agendas that do not support us? I don't think so.

Just because I bought your product doesn't mean I agree with your politics. That's why business contributions to political campaigns should be prohibited. It's a moral issue. It's a matter of trust. It's the best way we know how to save our democracy.

Here are two organizations leading the fight to restore order in our elections:
Friends of Democracy

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