On Friday, I sent out the first unit of “How to become an active citizen lobbyist.” As part of the assignments for that, you were asked to evaluate your passions and also name some barriers to why some of those things couldn’t happen today. My bet is…for one of the barriers listed, 99% of you either thought or wrote down the word “money.” And, most of you are right. Money is a huge barrier to things. It can be either the fact that there is not enough money available to make happen what you want to happen. Or, others with a lot of money are preventing it from happening. So with that in mind, here are some of my random thoughts on money in our society…and why, more than ever, we have to use our citizen voice. It is the only currency we have left.
First, we have the two recent Supreme Court decisions. On January 21, 2010, with its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons, entitled by the U.S. Constitution to buy elections and run our government. Human beings are people; corporations are legal fictions. The SCOTUS decided otherwise. In a very disappointing but not unexpected follow up decision, in McCuthcheon the justices said in a 5-4 vote that Americans have a right to give the legal maximum to candidates for Congress and president, as well as to parties and PACs, without worrying that they will violate the law when they bump up against a limit on all contributions, set at $123,200 for 2013 and 2014. That includes a separate $48,600 cap on contributions to candidates.
In simpler words, they made a statement: Unlimited campaign contributions to politicians by individuals and corporations. This is why more than ever you need to value the voice that you have…the vote…and use it. Please. If you are still trying to let your passion find you, maybe this is your issue. There is a Move to Amend underway, you can read more here. When Citizens United was first decided, that is when Occupy Wall Street first started. And guess what? It was quickly and effectively shut down by those who benefited most from that decision. When you think of Occupy Wall Street movements in cities…you likely think of a bunch of criminals and derelicts taking over city parks and wreaking havoc, right? That’s not by accident. The movement was shut down.
Let’s back that up with a little bit more information…the distribution of wealth. OxFam has predicted that by 2016, that the richest 1% of people in the world will own more than half of the world’s wealth. Think about that for a minute. 1% of the people will control more than half of the resources. We are seeing wealth hoarding occur at rates never seen before. At this point, there are several individuals in the world who could not even spend all their money in their lifetime, yet they continue to buy politicians so that they can accumulate more. Some wonderful souls like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are using it for good. Others like the Walton family just want to hoard more.
Ok, so let’s connect the dots. If you are a politician in our country, you can receive unlimited campaign contributions. And, 1% of the people in the world control a majority of the wealth…let’s think about who does not have money. You, me, families, children, schools, senior citizens, dogs, cats…our voice is all we have left. If 1% will own 54% of the wealth, even if the other 99% banded our wealth together, it’s not enough. All we have left is our voice and our vote.
If a politician has to make a choice between doing something that will cost money, raise taxes on a wealthy individual…or one that will reward that campaign contributor, who do you think they will choose? We just saw this in PA for four years, as our Governor continued to receive fracking money and refused to tax them, leaving PA to be the only state who does not tax them.
(as a side note, the more I read and research and type this, the more depressed and scared I am getting)
So moving one step further, into the areas that I am passionate about–schools and kids. We know that our schools do not have enough money. We do not do universal preschool because we are told there is not enough money. But is there?
Some folks like to argue welfare fraud and other “entitlement” issues that people have, but is that the real problem? No.
Farm subsidies, that is a real problem. I can’t believe that more people don’t know about the giant scam that is farm subsidies.
Early in last century, farm subsidies were developed to help American farmers. During times like the Great Depression and the dust bowl, farmers could not survive. Or, in order to survive, they had to raise their prices so high that the average American could not afford American grown food. So our government developed the subsidy program to help them through the hard times.
Problem is, 100 years later, it’s completely out of control. I’m all for helping the salt-of-the-earth American farmer when they need it. But that is not what farm subsidies do. Look at the list of top subsidy recipients. Billions of dollars, and they are not going to the “good ole American farmer” they are going to giant corporations who in turn, donate to campaigns. But wait…there’s more.
Every year, our House and Senate vote on a farm bill. The farm bill has two parts–one part of it designates the total amount of the farm subsidies, and the other part….designates how much money is going to go to food stamps or SNAP. It was designed and drafted this way on purpose. SNAP recipients are more likely to be urban, farm subsidy recipients tend to be more rural, so it was thought that if it went together, it would be easier to get it passed because every Senator and House Rep would have a vested interest. Except for one change, well two changes really. One is that the American farming business has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. Many are being bought out by large corporate farm owners, who have shareholders and large profits. The other is that the poverty gap is getting wider.
To add insult to injury, here is a list of 10 Representatives who voted to cut SNAP benefits, yet they personally benefited from the farm subsidies portion of the bill. List was provided by Our Futures.
Included among the members of Congress who voted to cut SNAP benefits are these members of Congress who received subsidies through the farm bill in 2012. The only recipient of farm subsidies in 2012 who voted against the benefit cut was Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), co-owner with his wife of Triple V Dairy Farm. Figures are from the Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Database.
How a Rep could vote against their constituents who rely on SNAP to feed their families, yet put farm subsidy money (from the same bill!) in their pockets is reprehensible.
Look, I know that many segments of our government are incredibly inefficient and have tons of waste. Farm subsidies are just one example of many that we could come up with. But the point I want to make, if you are lobbying for something, if you are making a case for something that is needed, and you are told, “there is no money” I want you to think. I don’t want you to be discouraged, because there is money. It’s just that no one is brave enough to stand up and say “The emperor is naked.” No one wants to make the tough calls and call out waste where it exists. Because they don’t want to lose campaign funding and therefore possibly their jobs.
The whole phenomena of Career Politicans feeds into this as well. In the 1800s, men owned and worked some type of family business with their relatives. Politics and serving your people was a noble profession, so you left your business for a few years, served, and returned. Your father, brothers and uncles kept your business running while you were away, so you happily returned to a job. Now we have career politicians, so the focus has totally changed. If you have a thriving business to return to, you don’t worry as much about being re-elected. When you don’t, and when you are consumed by the celebrity status and power, you want to retain it, no matter how inefficient you might be. Incumbents in this country have something like a 90% re-election rate, insane! That means we are consistently telling 90% of our politicians that they are doing a good job!
Ok, now I’m starting to ramble. Let me break this down into the points I’m trying to make.
- Because of Citizens United and McCutcheon, your citizen voice is the only currency you have in this political and economic climate. Consider adding A Move to Amend to your passions list if you have time.
- The top 54% of wealth in the world will be owned by 1% of the people in a year or two. This will only further exacerbate existing problems as many of those individuals only wish to get wealthier, not help others. And 1% has an extreme power to influence our legislators.
- When you visit with legislators and make your case for what you are asking for, and you’re told, “Yeah, but there’s really no money for that.” Ask yourself–do we really need to be giving billions of dollars to corporations who run farms? Is this really what farm subsidies were intended to do? Or is a loophole being exploited by rich folks? Is our big concern really food stamp fraud, or are we losing billions by giving billions to people who already have billions?
These are the three main points that concern me as a citizen, and most motivate me to try to get others involved in politics. I hope you will.