By Karen Berner
ACE Communications Team Leader
After the 2010 Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United vs. FEC, unlimited and unidentified money has been flooding into the American election system. Corporations are now legally recognized as “people,” and, along with Super PACs and 501(c) organizations, can contribute campaign funds without disclosing their donors. The ruling also struck down laws that provided limits on campaign spending.
“Tons of safeguards were built into the U.S. Constitution, and we’re testing them all,” said Dan Coy, Ph.D., of American Promise, an organization that is working to level the playing field between corporations, billionaires, and the rest of us. Coy spoke to ACE members at our January meeting. “(Citizens United) is threatening the operation of democracy,” he said.
The Citizens United ruling is the result of an almost fifty-year, pro-corporate plan, which can be traced back to former Supreme Court Associate Justice Lewis Powell who was appointed by then-president Richard Nixon. A memo leaked after Powell’s confirmation discussing his mission to give corporations unprecedented rights. It may have taken awhile, but we are definitely feeling the effects of the Powell plan today with the attacks on the environment, voting rights, and civil rights.
Does our government truly represent its people? Coy thinks not. The preferences of the average American do not matter to our representatives, he told ACE members. It’s the economic elite that count.
Coy also mentioned Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money, which deals with the rise of right-wing activist groups and their influence on American politics, particularly the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, whose influence can be seen in one-third of President Donald Trump’s transition team, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Kochs and their cronies are libertarians who believe government should only provide two things—a military and the police—that’s it.
“They hate government and want to shrink it,” Coy said. “They have a contempt for social services and the people who need them.”
The Koch brothers have endowed conservative think tanks and colleges to drum up support for their agenda. They get one or two scientists or professors to create doubt on, climate change, for example, just enough to keep the fight going on. The result is nothing gets done to resolve the issue.
“They have unparalleled influence on American politics,” said Coy. Small groups of oligarchs have always tried to shape democracies, but this time, they’re actually taking money from lower-income individuals and transferring it to millionaires most recently in the form of the Trump Tax Bill.
Coy called Americans for Prosperity, one of the Koch’s organizations, “a guerilla army,” saying they act almost like a third party.
That third party is Tea Party, born from the Kochs and other like-minded conservatives. What began with a core group of twenty or so grew to well over 400 once former President Barack Obama was elected. Their mission is to get Republicans elected, no matter who they are, as long as they prescribe to Tea Party ideals. When Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney called for steps to fight climate change, they received pushback from the Kochs and did a 180° turnaround in fear of facing the wrath of the Kochs.
What can we do?
Coy’s group, American Promise, is working on a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would overturn Citizens United. HJR 31/SJR 8, the Democracy for All Amendment, would focus on removing dark money out of politics and returning democracy to the people. It is already gaining support in the House and Senate. This 28th amendment “would allow reasonable limits on campaign contributions and reserve human liberties for people, not corporations,” according to the literature from American Promise.
Coy advises first to be aware of what’s going on. “Be an informed voter. Share this information with friends,” he suggested. “Then get involved. Join American Promise. Contact your local representatives to ask them to support the bills. This a bi-partisan issue. Nearly eighty percent of the American public opposes Citizens United.”
To download the American Promise full presentation, click here.
ACE Communications Team Leader Karen Berner has been a professional writer/editor for more than 30 years. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women’s Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women’s fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association.