Taking Money Out of Politics - by Mark E. Smith
I just saw an article called "Either we fight for our lives, Ferguson, and the future of the United States ... or we all die," written by Stephanie Llanes and Jamal Ubuntu on a UC Berkeley webpage:
The authors say there are three things we have to do, "somehow take money out of politics," "somehow end racial and economic residential segregation," and "somehow make state violence and all violence morally indefensible." I don't know how to accomplish the last two, but I do know how to get money out of politics.
The first thing to understand is why money is in politics. It so happens that donating to political parties, candidates, and PACs is the best investment that anyone can make. A few hundred thousand dollars invested in political donations can reap trillions of dollars for corporations that gain tax cuts, decreases in regulations and oversight, government contracts, bailouts, US military assistance in obtaining foreign resources, and much more from grateful candidates and political parties. Nowhere else is such a huge return for such a small investment possible.
But this is only possible if people are willing to tolerate a government where such things are taken for granted as a matter of course. That's why most of the billions donated by corporations to finance electoral politics in the US are spent on media and marketing to get out the vote. The airwaves become saturated, mailboxes fill up with political ads, and even the smallest towns and neighborhoods have campaign headquarters where paid staff preside over hordes of volunteers spending long days phoning voters, sending out flyers, posting ads on billboards, in stores, in yards, and in windows, and going door-to-door urging people to vote. And it works. In local elections where very little money is spent getting out the vote, turnouts as low as 10% are common, but in presidential races where billions are spent, the turnout is usually a bit over 50%.
Since we have winner-take-all elections, it doesn't matter who or what people vote for. As long as they vote, the winner can claim to have been democratically elected. And in our top-down system, that gives them the right to decide how our tax money is spent, to appoint representatives of their big donors to head federal regulatory agencies, to start wars, to incur debts in our name, and even to draw up kill lists of American citizens and assassinate them without due process. No matter what they do, if at least half the electorate votes, they can claim to have been democratically elected and to have the consent of the governed. And unless Congress decides to impeach them, they can continue to do whatever they wish until their terms of office are over, when there will be another election bought and paid for by the same corporations as the previous ones.
Given the winner-take-all nature of US elections, and the fact that the winner can claim the mandate of everyone who votes, no matter who and what they voted for, there are many tricks that are used to get people to vote. The most common is for one party to run an unacceptable candidate and the other party to run somebody even more unacceptable, so that people, fearing the greater evil, will vote for the lesser evil. Since both candidates are beholden to the same corporations, it really doesn't matter which one wins, as their agenda, once in office, will be the same, but voters never seem to catch on. It's the old good cop/bad cop scenario writ large. The bad cop rants and raves, threatens, and knocks you around until you are so grateful for the good cop that you incriminate yourself, sell out your friends, and whatever else you might have to do to avoid having to deal with the bad cop again. Any street thug knows better, but voters never learn.
Another trick to getting out the vote is to put a hot button issue on the ballot. People will rush out to vote for medical or recreational marijuana, GMO labels, reproductive rights, marriage equality, or whatever they think is important, without ever stopping to think that their vote makes them part of the mandate for genocide, austerity, the militarization of police, outsourcing their jobs, and whatever else the winner decides to do.
The US Supreme Court ruled that money is speech and that corporations can donate as much money as they wish to political parties. Yet voters still think that their vote is their voice in government. How can a vote be a voice when money speaks louder?
But there is a way to get money out of politics. Unfortunately, it isn't likely to happen. I've been advocating it for eight years now, and while more and more people are beginning to understand, most won't even listen.
But this is something I've taken upon myself to do, so I'll explain it again.
The way to get money out of politics is to stop voting.
It's that easy.
Unless they can get their mandate, the voter turnout that allows their puppets to claim the consent of the governed, the corporations cannot get the return on investment they count on. A President who wins an election where only 20% of the electorate bothered to vote, cannot claim to represent the will of the people or to have the consent of the governed.
Sure the political operatives will claim that the low turnout is due to apathy. But Homeland Security wouldn't have to spend trillions of dollars militarizing local police departments if the public was apathetic, so that story just won't wash.
When a country has low voter turnout, it indicates that its people have lost faith in their government. The US dollar is backed only by the faith and credit of the US government, and when that faith is lost, the credit will go with it. International credit rating agencies don't think much of governments that don't have the support of their people and a drop in voter turnout usually means a decrease in a country's credit rating.
But most importantly, corporations have a mandate to increase profits for their shareholders. When they donate to political campaigns they are making an investment and they expect the huge returns that they usually get. If they can't get out the vote, those returns are in jeopardy. If corporations spend billions of dollars financing an election and people don't vote, their boards of directors aren't likely to let them do it again.
The reason there is money in politics is to get out the vote, to get the consent of the governed for the corporations who benefit from a political system that represents corporations instead of people. The only way to get money out of politics is to withhold our consent, to stop voting, to boycott elections.
The US is a capitalist country. As long as something is profitable, corporations will exploit it. Once it is no longer profitable, they'll drop it like a hot potato. Financing elections is the most profitable investment in the US. The only way to take the profits out of it is the same way that we'd take the profits out of anything else that was harming us--to stop buying it. Boycotts work. If we don't buy it, they can't sell it.
When corporations put money into politics, it isn't just the politicians they're buying--politicians without the consent of the governed lack the legitimacy that international credit rating agencies look for in deciding how easily countries will be able to borrow and spend. What the corporations are buying is the consent of the governed to corporate rule--and your vote is your consent.
If you want money out of politics, stop voting. Not even the US government can afford to send troops from door to door forcing people to vote. Sure, elections officials can manufacture phantom ballots and pretend that more people voted than actually did, but without the voter signatures to back it up, such frauds are easily detected. And voter turnout is the first thing that international observers look for in an election.
TV ads for candidates (or against candidates) cost money. Political mailings cost money. Phone banks cost money. Billboards and posters cost money. Even the scripts that volunteers speak from when they go door to door getting out the vote cost money, as do the vans that transport them and the staff that trains them. And all that money is directed at you, to convince you to vote. If you vote, it is money well spent.
If you don't vote, it is money down the drain. And flushing that money down the drain is the only way to get money out of politics.
The next time you look at a ballot, see if there are any candidates listed. If so, it doesn't matter what issues you vote for or if you don't vote for any of the candidates. In winner-take-all elections whichever candidate gets the most votes, even if they get 3 votes and their opponent only gets two, can claim to have been democratically elected in an election with a 50% turnout, and therefore to represent the people who didn't even vote for them.
Recently, the turnout was so low in local elections in Los Angeles, that the city is discussing having a lottery to help get out the vote. Anyone who votes would be entered for a chance to win a $50,000 lottery prize. Does that sound like they don't care if people vote or not?
If people don't vote, the government will be forced to try to find ways to encourage voter turnout. And that's when voters will finally have a voice. If people say they aren't interested in voting unless money is removed from politics, either the money will be removed or the government will lose its mandate.
Block the vote!
(Hat tip to Hal Dockins for calling my attention to the article linked above.)
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