- a country or society governed by the wealthy
- an elite or ruling class of people whose power derives from their wealth
As activists, we should all get in the habit of using this word in our everyday discussion of American politics. It is exactly what our country has become. Long before Donald Trump, large corporations exerted outsized influence on our politicians through large and well funded lobbying arms. But after the perverse and wrong-headed Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, our political system has become soaked in cash.
Politicians know they need a lot of money to win elections, especially when the electorate is ill-informed and easily swayed by a few salacious 30-second TV commercials. So it’s no surprise that our Democracy has slowly become controlled by the people in our country with the most money. This mainly includes the CEOs of large corporations and billionaires (self-made and heirs).
The core of our democracy is supposed to be “one person, one vote,” but the Citizens United decision took a sledgehammer to that principle by allowing unlimited political expenditures by corporations and unions. Sure, gerrymandering and the electoral college and the unchanging composition of the Senate all skew the power and significance of a single vote, but money seems to be the most corrosive and insidious of threats to our democratic heritage.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are now spent each election cycle, and on the Republican side much of the cash comes from only a handful of wealthy backers, including the Koch brothers, the Mercers, Sheldon Adelson, Ken Langone, Paul Singer, Peter Thiel and Stephen Scharzman. A recent internal memo from the Kochs bragged that the Trump team had already enacted a large part of the Koch dream-agenda, including lowering the highest tax rates. These plutocrats are like pimps, and the politicians are their prostitutes. Elected officials used to answer to the people who voted for them, but they increasingly care mainly about the wealthy people who fund them. It may be legal for a rich person to put millions into the campaigns of untold numbers of politicians, but it is deeply arrogant, manipulative and unAmerican.
Politicians like John Faso will tell you to your face that the money they receive doesn’t influence how they vote, but why then would so many wealthy people spend millions of dollars on political campaigns? Because their money buys influence and legislation. Just look at the hedge fund industry. When hedge funds first started making a lot of money, they were able to get the IRS to define the fees they receive not as ordinary income but as “carried interest”, a category of income taxed at a much lower rate. Their fees aren’t any more special than the fees a lawyer or cabdriver charges, but hedge funds were able to buy enough influence to carve out an exception. It may have cost them millions, but it saved them billions in taxes–billions that could have gone toward our schools, our infrastructure, our healthcare. Activist Michael Kink, who spoke yesterday at our ITFIO Social, has a great website with more details on the hedge fund situation:
A resolution to eliminate the carried interest deduction at the state level in NY will be voted on soon, and the outcome is in the hands of the State Senate. Our Dutchess County State Senator Sue Serino (R) will be an important vote on this measure, and we intend to let her know that we want the carried interest loophole ended. She will have to choose between the people of her district and the plutocrats who fund her and her party. Money is important to a politician, but votes remain–for now–the most important currency. The GOP can out-spend us, so we must out-organize and out-pressure them if we want change.
Please join the protest next Friday, March 9th, at noon outside Sue Serino’s office in Hyde Park and send her a message. We don’t intend to let the plutocrats win.