Defeating Oligarchy – Part III

The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “OUR REVOLUTION: A Future To Believe In” by Bernie Sanders from Part Two: “An Agenda for a New America: How We Transform Our Country” from Chapter One: “Defeating Oligarchy” on page 197 and I quote: “THE KOCH BROTHERS – The Koch Brothers–the second-wealthiest family in America, with a net worth of at least $82 billion–are the leading force in the oligarchic movement.  Their company, Koch Industries, is the second-largest privately run business in America, with an estimated revenue of $115 billion in 2013.  It has its tentacles in many areas of the economy, but makes most of its money in the extraction and refining of oil.

During the first term of the Obama administration, no fewer than eighteen billionaires came together under the Koch brothers’ leadership to oppose the president’s initiatives and move his country in an extreme right-wing direction.  Some of the other billionaires involved were Richard Mellon Scaife, an heir to the Mellon banking and Gulf oil fortunes; Henry and Linda Bradley, defense contractors; John M. Olin, involved in chemicals and munitions; the DeVos family, the founders of the Amway corporation; and the Coors brewing family of Colorado.

In Dark Money, her brilliant book on the Kochs, Jane Mayer writes that these billionaire brothers “subsidized networks of seemingly unconnected think tanks and academic programs and spawned advocacy groups to make their arguments in the national political debate.  They hired lobbyists to push their interests in Congress and operatives to create synthetic, grassroots groups to give their movement political momentum on the ground.  In addition, they financed legal groups and judicial junkets to press their cases in the courts.  Eventually, they added to this a private political machine that rivaled, and threatened to subsume, the Republican Party.  Much of this activism was cloaked in secrecy and presented as philanthropy, leaving almost no money trail that the public could trace.  But cumulatively it formed, as one of their operatives boasted in 2015, a fully integrated network.”

In 2015, the Koch brothers announced that they and their network intended to spend $750 million to support political candidates and promote their policies during the 2016 election cycle.  That is more money than either the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee will spend.  The Kochs’ goal was to make certain that Republicans continue to control the U.S. Senate and U.S. House, as well as win victories in state and local races all across the country.  According to more than a few political experts, the Koch family now has more political power than either the Democratic or Republican parties.

Who are the Koch brothers and what do they stand for?  The media often describes them as “conservative” or “small-government advocates.”  The truth is that they are much, much more than that.  They are right-wing extremists, with unlimited financial resources, who are leading the most significant effort in modern American history to move this country into an oligarchic form of society and to repeal virtually every major piece of legislation passed in the last seventy-five years that supports the needs of working families.

What are their goals? In 1980, David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket and helped fund its campaign activities.  I understand that 1980 is a long time ago, but there is no evidence to suggest that the Koch brothers’ views on the major issues facing our country have substantively changed.

What is frightening is how much success they have had over the years in pushing some of these ideas into the political mainstream.  Back in 1980, they were considered “fringe” and “crazy” proposals, and Koch’s Libertarian Party received almost no support.  Today the views of the Koch brothers are the dominant ideology in the Republican Party, and candidates all over the country publicly defend them.

From their earliest days, the Koch brothers understood that their power rested not in their ideas but in the ability of their money to buy elections.  One of the major planks of the Koch brothers’ Libertarian Party platform back in 1980 was to “urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws, and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.”  They understood then, and they understand now, that the success was tied to the ability of the superwealthy to buy elections.

Let us give credit where credit is due.  The Koch brothers, through their legal front organizations and with the active support of the Republican Party, won the 5-4 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which went a very long way to implementing that Libertarian Party plank to repeal campaign finance laws.  But the Koch brothers are not through yet.  They want to go further than Citizens United.  They want to eliminate all restrictions on campaign spending, and that is precisely what their legal organizations are now working on.

If they are successful, it will mean billionaires could directly contribute unlimited sums to the candidates of their choice.  It would mean the oligarchs could fully fund and direct the campaigns of their candidates.  It would mean that elected officials would essentially become part of the company payroll.  That is the political future the Koch brothers and their allies want for America.  That is their view of democracy: a nation in which elected officials are bought and paid for by the moneyed interests.

In general, I’m not a great fan of litmus tests for Supreme Court nominees.  But during my campaign I made it very clear that I would only appoint nominees who were very public about their willingness to overturn Citizens United.  I cannot emphasize this enough: That decision is undermining American democracy and moving us closer and closer to an oligarchy.  I was glad that Secretary Clinton took the same position I did.

While ending all campaign finance regulations is one of their major goals, the Koch brothers are interested in many other issues.  Their being the second-wealthiest family in America, it should not be surprising they want to pay less in taxes and hate the idea of progressive taxation.  But they go way, way further than that.  The Libertarian Party platform that David Koch helped draft opposed “all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes,” and supported “the eventual repeal of all taxation.”  All taxation.  The platform even went as far as encouraging the rich and powerful to break the law and stop paying taxes: “As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.”

As the owners of a major fossil fuel company, and leading funders of climate change denial groups, they also supported abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.  Great idea: Let’s just put the fox, a particularly rapacious fox, in charge of the henhouse.

And it gets even better.  Here are some more of the ideas David Koch ran on.  This is the kind of America they want to create:

  • “We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
  • “We oppose any compulsory insurance or tax-supported plan to provide health services, including those which finance abortion services.”
  • “We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system.”
  • “We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service. . . . In addition to being inefficient, [it] encourages governmental surveillance of private correspondence.”
  • “We support repeal of. . . minimum wage laws.”
  • “Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children. . . . Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”
  • “We condemn compulsory education laws. . . and we call for [their] immediate repeal.”
  • “We call for the privatization of the public roads and national highway system.”
  • “We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and ‘aid to the poor’ programs.”

By any rational standard, these are extreme views.  Yet, they are the views of the very people helping bankroll today’s Republican Party.  So, the next time you see a glitzy ad on television funded by one of the Koch brothers’ front groups, professing to care about the issues facing ordinary Americans, please remember what they really stand for and what kind of America the Kochs want.

WHY IT ALL MATTERS – Many people I know are passionately concerned about health care, the environment, the economy, human rights, and a host of other very, very important issues.  Campaign finance reform, not so much.  Let’s face it, campaign finance reform is not exactly a sexy issue.  But what many people don’t see or understand is the direct connection between campaign funding and the development and implementation of public policy, including the very issues they care deeply about.

Please understand.  The wealthy and powerful are not contributing to candidates and parties for the fun of it.  They want their pound of flesh.  If they make a contribution, they want action on their concerns.  The more powerful entities don’t even need a member of Congress to write the legislation they want anymore–they write it themselves.  All they need is someone to introduce it and shepherd it through the legislative process.

Here are a few examples of what is achieved by money in politics and a corrupt campaign finance system:

In 2008, the United States suffered the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, when Wall Street collapsed.  Many experts believe that this horrific recession was precipitated by the passage of bipartisan legislation enacted during Bill Clinton’s administration that deregulated Wall Street and the activities of the largest financial interests in the country.

In order to get that legislation passed, to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, which for decades had kept giant commercial banks, investment banks, and insurance companies from merging, the financial sector spent more than $1.2 billion over five years in lobbying and campaign contributions.  They got what they wanted, and the American people got a terrible recession.

In the United States, uniquely among industrialized nations, drug companies can charge any price they want for prescription drugs.  As a result, we pay the highest prices in the world, by far, for the medicines we use.  The pharmaceutical industry has 1,399 lobbyists working for them at a cost of about $240 million a year.  That’s more than two and a half times more lobbyists than there are members of Congress.  During the 2012 campaign cycle, the pharmaceutical industry contributed over $50 million to members of both parties.  Honestly, I cannot remember Big Pharma ever losing a major legislative battle.  They win, the American people lose.

The U.S. has a defense budget of some $600 billion a year.  This is larger than that of the next seven nations combined.  The defense budget is rampant with cost overruns, fraud, and all kinds of unnecessary spending.  The military-industrial complex spent about $164 million on campaign contributions and lobbying during the 2012 election cycle.  This means they get their weapons systems, but there is less money available for our social needs at home.

The scientific community is absolutely clear that climate change is caused by human activity, primarily by the emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, and that it is the greatest environmental crisis facing our nation and the world.  Yet we have a major political party, the Republican Party, which not only refuses to take action to transform our energy system but which says it doesn’t even accept the scientific reality of climate change.  The fossil fuel industry spent $250 million on campaign contributions and lobbying during the 2012 cycle.  They get to continue pumping, refining, and burning oil, while the rest of us deal with the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

GETTING BIG MONEY OUT OF POLITICS – On November 19, 1863, standing on the bloodstained battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the best-remembered speeches in American history.  At the conclusion of his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln stated “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  In the year 2016, with a political campaign finance system that is corrupt and increasingly controlled by billionaires and special interests, I fear very much that, in fact, “government of the people, by the people, for the people” will perish in the United States of America.

We cannot allow that to happen.

Six years ago, as a result of the Citizens United decision, by a 5-4 vote the U.S. Supreme Court essentially said to the wealthiest people in this country: You already own much of the American economy.  Now, we are going to give you the opportunity to purchase the U.S. government, the White House, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, governors’ seats, legislatures, and state judicial branches as well.

The Citizens United decision hinges on the absurd notion that money is speech, corporations are people, and giving huge piles of undisclosed cash to politicians in exchange for access and influence does not constitute corruption.

During this campaign cycle, billions of dollars from the wealthiest people in this country are already flooding the political process.  Super PACs–a direct outgrowth of the Citizens United decision–are enabling the wealthiest people and the largest corporations in this country to contribute unlimited amounts of money.

The situation has become so absurd that super PACs, which theoretically operate independently of the actual candidates, often have more money and more influence over campaigns than the candidates themselves.

As former president Jimmy Carter has said, unlimited money in politics “violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system.  Now, it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president.  And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and Congress members.  So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.”

The need for real campaign finance reform is not a progressive issue.  It is not a conservative issue.  It is an American issue.  It is an issue that should concern all Americans–regardless of their political point of view–who wish to preserve the essence of the longest-standing democracy in the world, a government that is supposed to represent all of the people and not just a handful of powerful special interests.

During my campaign for president, I made campaign finance reform one of my highest priorities.  I told the American people that, if elected president, I would take the following steps to combat the growth of oligarchy.  I am not going to be the next president, but this is the right agenda for the next president to pursue.  Real campaign finance reform must happen as soon as possible.  Here’s what I think it should entail:

First, we must overturn, through a constitutional amendment, the Citizens United decision, as well as the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, which introduced the absurd notion that spending money on behalf of a candidate or a political part is a form of protected speech.  Moreover, we must fight to overturn the 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC decision, which struck down limits on how much an individual can contribute to a national party and to a candidate’s campaign over a two-year period.  We must make it clear that Congress and the states have the power to regulate money in elections.  I have been a proud sponsor and leading champion of such an amendment in the Senate.

We need to pass legislation to require wealthy individuals and corporations who make large campaign contributions to disclose where their money is going.  We must insist on complete transparency regarding the funding of campaigns, including through disclosure of contributions to outside spending groups.  There is no reason why the next president can’t, through an executive order, require government contractors to disclose political spending intended to influence contracting decisions.

We need to move toward a publicly funded, transparent system of campaign financing that amplifies small donations, along the lines of the Fair Elections Now Act that I have been pleased to cosponsor.

Our vision for American democracy should be a nation in which all people, regardless of their income, can participate in the political process, and can run for office without begging for contributions from the wealthy.

Our vision for the future of this country should be one in which candidates are not telling billionaires at special forums what they can do for them in exchange for large contributions.

Our vision for democracy should be one in which candidates are speaking to the vast majority of our people–working people, the middle class, low-income people, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor–and discussing with them their ideas to how we can improve lives for all of the people in this country.

One of the truly remarkable aspects of my campaign was that we showed the world that a successful national campaign could be run without a super PAC, and without being dependent on big-money contributions, from 2.5 million people, averaging $27 per contribution.

What my campaign showed, and what poll after poll has shown, is that the American people are sick and tired of big money buying elections and democracy being undermined.

The time is now for campaign finance reform–real campaign finance reform.”

(THE FOLLOWING IS FROM THE INSIDE FRONT COVER AND I QUOTE:

“In Our Revolution, Sanders shares his personal experiences from the campaign trail, recounting the details of his historic primary fight and the people who made it possible.  And for the millions looking to continue the political revolution, he outlines a progressive economic, environmental, racial, and social justice agenda that will create jobs, raise wages, protect the environment, and provide health care for all–and ultimately transform our country and our world for the better.  For him, the political revolution has just started.  The campaign may be over, but the struggle goes on.”

MY COMMENTS: VOTING RIGHTS HAVE TO BE IMPROVED.  WHAT THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IS DOING ON A FEDERAL LEVEL AS WELL AS THE STATE LEVEL HERE IN WISCONSIN TO MAKE IT HARDER FOR MINORITY GROUPS AND THE POOR TO VOTE IS CRIMINAL.  THE GERRYMANDERING OF DISTRICTS IS BEING CHALLENGED HERE IN WISCONSIN BY THREE JUDGES AND WILL EVENTUALLY BE SENT TO THE SUPREME COURT BUT WILL BE ALLOWED BECAUSE OF RICH BILLIONAIRES LIKE THE KOCH BROTHERS.  THIS WHOLE BOOK IS A GREAT BOOK TO READ .  CHAPTER ONE OF PART TWO, WHICH I’M PUTTING ON MY BLOG IS JUST A SAMPLE.

LaVern Isely, Progressive, Overtaxed, Independent Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen Member and USAF Veteran

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About tim074

I'm a retired dairy farmer that was a member of the National Farmer's Organization (NFO). Before going farming, I spent 4 years in the United States Air Force where I saved up enough money to get my down payment to go farming. I also enjoy writing and reading biographies and I write about myself as well as articles and excerpts I find interesting. I'm specifically interested in finances, particularly in the banking industry because if it wasn't for help from my local Community Bank, I never could have started farming which I was successful at. So, I'm real interested in the Small Business Administration and I know they are the ones creating jobs. I have been a member of Common Cause and am now a member of Public Citizen as well as AARP. I have, in the past, written over 150 articles on the Obama Blog (my.barackobama.com) and I'd like to tie these two sites together. I'm also on Twitter, MySpace and Facebook and find these outlets terrifically interesting particularly what many of these people did concerning the uprising in the Arab world. I believe this is a smaller world than we think it is and my goal is to try to bring people together to live in peace because management needs labor like labor needs management. Up to now, that hasn't been so easy to find.
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