We are the 79 percent
As I’m sure everyone is aware, 2012 is an election year. In just a few short months, we’ll be positively mired in political lawn signs, attack ads and all other kinds of propaganda-all of which (and here’s the rub) costs money.
Money in politics has become a hot topic in the past few months, and it seems to me that the lack of cooperation by our representatives and legal experts in addressing this particular concern is unacceptable.
A recent poll conducted by MoveOn.org revealed that 79 percent of Americans polled (which includes 72 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of Independents) believe that “it’s important that a candidate commit to reducing the influence of corporations over elections.” The very suffrage of individual citizens is under attack and has been for years. The polls show that we now are part of a constituency that recognizes that.
So why the shameless stalling and sidestepping by those that we elect? Is there some kind of brainwashing that takes place within hours of taking office? No, probably not, but there is an established legal precedent that essentially equates campaign contributions and massive expenditures by corporations to our First Amendment right to free speech. In the U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled that corporations and unions have the same political speech rights as individual citizens.
It isn’t hard to see where this becomes problematic. If I have $100 and you have $1 million, whose opinion matters more to career politicians endeavoring to secure their paychecks for another term? Whose money can buy more attack ads that misinform and divide the public? If money equals speech, how is that in any way equitable considering the highly disparate socioeconomic climate that we live in?
Furthermore, in the Citizens United decision, the court made the erroneous assumption that corporations’ influence over and privileged access to politicians “will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.”
Occupy Wall Street (you all knew I would come to this eventually) is the physical manifestation of, if not a lack of faith in our democracy, at least the acknowledgement that there are some serious flaws in its implementation. I’ve been to marches and demonstrations in both New York and Boston, and for all the hype about revolution and class warfare, there are just as many protesters who are simply disgusted with the amount of money in politics, because while money is definitely not speech, it does often translate into votes.
It’s time that we, as the 79 percent of citizens who disagree with current practices in Washington, demanded change from our representatives. Overturn Citizens United. Make it harder for corporations to buy legislation. Work on ways to viably finance campaigns using public funds, and in doing so prevent the kind of juvenile mud-slinging that we see in super PAC-financed propaganda. Let’s try using individual votes as political currency, not dollars.
Kathryn Krause is a junior diplomacy major from Auburn, N.Y.. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.