Texas' foremost populist says, 'We the People, not We the Corporations'
Published: November 9, 2011
This year, Toomey helped Perry set up his presidential campaign, serving as both adviser and fundraiser. Now he runs the Make Us Great Again outfit, insisting that it is entirely separate from Perry's campaign. Helloooo! The PAC and the campaign don't have to coordinate, because both are embodied in Toomey.
It's up to us. We are it.
Do politicians think that people can't see their cynical and deliberate scamming of our democratic process? If so, they might peek at some of the letters, e-mails and Facebook messages I get practically every day. Not only do folks see it clearly, they're looking to join in some serious butt-kicking:
• "CEOs represent a clear and present danger to the overall well-being and security of our country. Big money has plucked our eagle." —Larry
• "We need to get under one umbrella. How can we do it? I'm so angry at the state of things. Still, I'm trying to stay positive." —Melody
• "I like the idea of petitioning to reverse the Citizens United decision. I would be pleased to help with the petition in Kansas if it gets going, or to start one. Where does one begin?" —Robert
• "The most effective campaign to launch is to get every org to focus lobbying, dollars and message on the one issue: End corporate influence and power." —Christine
This is not just another issue. It is central to practically every one of our issues, for it amounts to surrendering our democratic authority to, in Jefferson's words, "the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations."
The court and the political elites have forced you and me into another of those when-in-the-course-of-human-events moments that Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence. This is a time in which ordinary people are called forth by history to do what our leaders won't: Assert the American people's independence from authoritarian rule by corporate plutocrats.
Just say yes
The Powers That Be want us to believe that this effort is hopeless, that we can't really undo the legal scaffolding of artificial personhood that the corporados have erected over us flesh-and-blood citizens. Rather than attempting to deconstruct the Brave New America, they tell us, we should be satisfied with softening its rougher edges with things like campaign finance reporting requirements.
Now, there's a rallying cry for an angry public: "Give us campaign finance reporting regulations or give us death!"
How insulting to say that Americans today are too small to achieve big democratic results. And how erroneous. As a friend of mine notes, those who say it can't be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.
Here's a partial menu of actions that are under way or that you could start right where you live:
1) Amend. Two major coalitions are aggressively organizing grass-roots power from coast to coast to demand and pass a constitutional amendment to prohibit corporations from buying our elections. Yes, this is a difficult and lengthy process, but as an old Spanish dicho puts it, "Big maladies require big remedies." The people have passed amendments before and we can again, especially for a cause that starts with such broad and passionate public support.
2) FreeSpeechForPeople.org proposes a straightforward amendment to repeal the Supremes' infamous Citizens United ruling. The coalition's battle cry is: Citizens United against Citizens United. MoveToAmend.org proposes a broader amendment to declare that only human beings, not corporations, are persons with constitutional rights.
Both coalitions have grass-roots organizers, do-it-yourself toolkits for raising the issue locally and getting others involved, petitions to be circulated and sent to public officials, videos and other graphic materials for getting people informed, sample resolutions for local and state officials to pass, ways to connect people to each other and to the national movement, and a wealth of other organizing ideas and resources.
3) Uncover. One of the little-noticed and unfulfilled promises included in the court's Citizens United ruling is that corporations should at least have to disclose to shareholders and the public how much political money they spend on whom. Congressional Republicans, however, have blocked proposals to implement this minimalist democratic gesture, and President Obama so far has not issued administrative rules to shine even a little sunlight on secret electioneering by corporations.
But you don't have to wait on Washington. Citizens groups in Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin, and Boulder, Colo., have pushed disclosure requirements into law and at least nine federal courts have ruled that these requirements pass constitutional muster. Groups in Los Angeles, Fort Wayne and Chicago, in New Mexico, Connecticut and elsewhere are pushing conflict-of-interest laws to ban or restrict campaign donations by corporations that seek government contracts.
In addition, employees and shareholders of some big corporations, along with other innovative citizens, have launched their own do-it-yourself disclosure campaigns. Using both inside tips and the occasional leak of secret corporate donations, they are publishing the information à la Wikileaks and holding protests at corporate offices to expose publicity-shy executives who're funneling shareholder funds into elections.
4) Impeach. At least two of the corporate-coddling Supremes — Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — had undisclosed ties to the Koch brothers and other secretive corporate plutocrats at the time the Court was considering the Citizens United case. Two national organizations have extensive information about the justices' blatant disregard of basic ethics and are collecting petitions to hold them to account. CommonCause.org seeks a Justice Department investigation of the two and proposes that Supreme Court members be subjected to the Judicial Code of Conduct that applies to all other federal judges. RootsAction.org goes further, calling for impeachment proceedings against Thomas for accepting gifts from participants in cases before him and for filing false financial reports.
5) Connect. It's not all bad news in Washington. Many members of Congress are pushing national policies to end or at least curtail the corrupting power of corporate political cash. It's important to have an inside-outside strategy on these policies, linking grass-roots strength (ideas, courage, energy and numbers) to those fighting inside for real reform. One of the best points of connection is the Progressive Caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Keith Ellison of Minneapolis and Raul Grijalva of Tucson. Find them at cpc.grijalva.house.gov.
6) Confront. The time to get the attention of Congress critters is now, when they're running for office. Every candidate — incumbent, challenger, Republican, tea partier, Democrat, et al. — should be confronted politely but insistently on the corporate money issues: Citizens United, corporate personhood, public campaign funding, etc. Make appointments, attend their campaign events and town hall sessions, send queries and disseminate their responses as broadly as possible, even if all you get from them is gibberish.
7) Localize. All across the country, clean election coalitions have passed laws to give local and state candidates the alternative of using a public pool of money to finance their campaigns rather than having to kiss the ring of corporate interests. Learn about these successes and how you can launch a similar effort where you live by going to PubliCampaign.org.
Likewise, get information and inspiration from the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (poclad.org) and ReclaimDemocracy.org about local communities that are restricting or outright rejecting the fiction of corporate personhood. From such small towns as Arcata, Calif., to cities like Pittsburgh, people are uniting to prohibit assertions of a corporate right to run over them. As Pittsburgh City Council member Doug Shields said of a successful effort last November to ban natural gas fracking in his city, "It's about our authority as a community to decide, not corporations deciding for us."
8) Enjoy. Whatever you do, think fun: How could this be more humorous, more lively, more entertaining, more welcoming, more engaging and, therefore, more effective? As much as possible, turn your meetings, work sessions and events into parties with a little food and drink, music, videos, cartoons, puppets, skits, stunts, contests, stories and whatever else the group can think of.
Whether it's the Arab Spring or the American Autumn, democratic progress doesn't come on the winds of history, but on the shoulders of a determined people. Occupy Wall Street offers millions of strong shoulders with which to shove corporate money out of our politics and make "people power" more than an empty slogan. While the Constitution says "We the People," not We the Corporations, the people themselves must make that distinction real.
We the People
Let's get to organizing. A coalition of folks around the country are organizing to do two key things: 1) Focus social and traditional media attention on raising public awareness (and blood-boiling outrage) about the usurpation of our democracy by corporate money; and 2) Connect this rising awareness and outrage directly to some grass-roots actions that people can take to stop this hijacking for once and forever.
The truth might not set you free, but it can get you moving. To help mad-as-hellers move effectively, the We the People Campaign is working with dozens of excellent progressive groups that are ready and able to enroll local folks to help bring corporate arrogance to heel, coordinating with them on a range of actions to get corporate money out of our politics. The groups are seeking to sign up a million Americans to join with them and other democracy fighters in this historic cause. To connect with the groups, get information about the issue and the campaign, and sign We the People's Declaration of Independence from Corporate Rule, go to WeThePeopleCampaign.org or Facebook.com/wethepeoplecampaign. Follow the campaign on Twitter @peep_power.
> Email Jim Hightower