Income inequity, money in politics, and a feeling among the U.S. electorate of frustration provide a “perfect storm” in today’s U.S. economic and political system. Robert Reich, speaking at the LWVBAE community luncheon on September 4, outlined the current situation. He stressed that what we need to do is first, reverse the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, move to public financing of elections, and pass a full disclosure law.
“Four hundred individuals in the U.S. have as much wealth as the bottom 150 million.”
As Reich described, not since the 1880s-1920s has the U.S. seen the inequality of income and wealth we see today. The late 19th and early 20th century was a period of deep frustration when many Americans worked hard but still could not earn enough to build an even modestly comfortable life. Like today. Many people are now working more than one job, commuting long distances to be able to afford housing, and still not making ends meet. In the early 20th century, Teddy Roosevelt and others recognized the need for reforms to the political and economic systems. Roosevelt – “the Trust Buster” – is sometimes credited with launching the Progressive Era which resulted in reforms including a progressive income tax, labor unions, and more direct democracy.
Another element of our current “perfect storm” is the inequality in the political system with the strong influence of money in politics. With the Citizens United decision, 501c4 “social welfare organizations” are not required to disclose their sources of funding, thereby allowing those with money to gain more political advantage.
And finally, Reich described that there is now a strong feeling of frustration with the political process and a dysfunctional level of anger among lawmakers. Reich pointed out that in his extensive work in both Republican and Democratic administrations he has “never before seen this degree of anger and nastiness.”
So what should we do? Reich cautioned that we cannot let frustrations lead to cynicism and apathy; that plays into the hands of the moneyed interests. Rather, he encouraged we need to, first, reverse the Citizens United Supreme Court decision – by either changing the court through new appointments or by constitutional amendment; move toward public financing of elections, which is in a bill on the Hill now; and pass a full disclosure law.
With it all, Reich is optimistic. “The U.S. has an extraordinary capacity for reforming itself when Americans understand what is at stake. We need to get out and talk to people who disagree with us,” Reich stressed. “That’s how we learn.”
More on Money in Politics–recent articles of interest: A Note
Dan Newman of MapLight, LWVCEF’s partner in the SmartVoter.org-Votersedge.org trial collaboration, was interviewed in the LA Times by Pat Morrison. He shares our concerns about money in politics and Maplight and LWVC lobby on many of the same bills. We are working with Maplight in Berkeley on two efforts that we’ll take up after the election: a system of publicly funded election campaigns in Berkeley and an independent redistricting commission. See our earlier article.
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