By Justin Antitheist
Do we have representative democracy in the USA? Our system of government is called a constitutional republic and our elected officials are supposed to represent we the people. But do they?
If they did, we would reasonably expect, for example, that if 50% of the voting public supported a proposal, 50% of the politicians would too, and if 100% of the voting public supported something, 100% of their representatives would too. As we’ll see, this ideal correlation is not reality in America, this chart represents how it really is and has been for many decades. We’ll explain it all in this video. (Gilens & Page, 2014)
Once upon a time in the U.S.A. There was something called democracy. Not any more! The richest 10% of America has far more power than the other 90%. Also, it is now possible for foreign powers to more-or-less buy elections, anonymously, secretly and legally. (Hall, 2016) The American people have the least power in all of this.
What happened? A series of steps down a slippery slope, arguably starting with The Spoils System (AKA Patronage System) of the 1830s and continuing down the slope with other things including the first PACs (Political Action Committees), formed in 1944, Buckley v. Valeo, 1976, First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 1978, Mccain Feingold, 2002 and Citizens United vs the FEC, 2010, which was a step off the cliff, has led to our current situation – a government of the rich for the rich by the rich.
Big political elections are puppet shows. Candidates of both major parties are puppets. The senate, the House of representatives, the President, Vice President, – all puppets of big money; the big corporations, Wall Street, and the super rich.
Between 2010 and 2015, the top 200 most political companies invested 5.9 billion dollars legally bribing the government and in return the government gave them 4.4 trillion dollars taken from tax payers. (Represent Us, 2015) That’s just the top 20 companies and just in a 5 year period and that’s just one example of one way in which the system is corrupt.
We the people have almost no impact. Big money has almost total control.
Voters don’t decide who gets elected. Voters have only the illusion of choice: a choice between puppets, puppets controlled by the same puppet master.
According to the nations premier political money tracking research groups, the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit, non-partisan organization, money wins elections at least 90% of the time. That is, whichever candidate has the most money spent on their campaign wins 9 out of 10 times or worse. It’s not the issues, it’s not their platforms, it’s the money. They found that 93% of the time, money wins elections for the House of Representatives. For the Senate, it’s 94% of the time. (Washington DC) (Biersack, 2012), (Center for Responsive Politics, 2008).
It does not actually make a difference which puppet gets elected because virtually all of the time, the puppets do what big money makes them do and virtually none of the time, the puppets do what We the People want them to do. The White House and Congress – all puppets to big money. So what the hell happened?
As mentioned, there has been a number of steps leading to our current situation.
Let’s go a little deeper into some of this stuff. Starting with the Powell Memo of August 23rd, 1971. Louis Powell, a corporate lawyer on the board of 11 corporations, wrote a secret memo to his friend, the Director of the Chamber of Commerce. It was later leaked by reporter Jack Anderson. The memo said that they should seek to challenge the campaign finance laws before the Supreme Court. Two months later, President Nixon appointed him to the Supreme Court (FistFullFeed, 2013), (PBS, 2006), (Reclaim Democracy, 2015) where his was the deciding vote in Buckeley v.Valeo (1976).
In Buckley v. Valeo (1976) the Supreme Court ruled that there can be no expenditure limits in election campaigns because that violates a corporations First Amendment rights. Contribution limits remained in place as well as disclosure laws, meaning that the public still had free access to who bought who. (FEC, n.d.), (FEC, 2015)
In First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti 435 U.S. 765 (1978) it was held that corporations have First Amendment Right to free speech in the form of contributions to ballot initiative campaigns and any state laws limiting this were violating the corporations First Amendment rights and were therefore overturned. (FEC, n.d.), (FEC, 2015). (Justia, n.d.).
We will cover the last step, Citizens United v. the FEC, 2010 shortly. But for now, let’s look as the famous study from Princeton University released in 2014 called Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. In this paper, professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin L. Page analyzed 1,779 different policy initiatives (issues) between 1981 and 2002 and conclude that virtually all of the decisions were made in favor of the rich and against America and the people of America. They write that average citizens and even, “mass-based interest groups” have virtually no influence on the decisions politicians actually make in office. (2014)
They looked at the average US citizen in comparison to the top 10% and then the top 2%.
“Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” (Gilens & Page, 2014).
They also wrote, “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”
They wrote, “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened. . . In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule. . . the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” They say that the average American has the “least effect” on the decisions politicians make. And, “The net alignments of the most influential, business-oriented groups are negatively related to the average citizen’s wishes. So existing interest groups do not serve effectively as transmission belts for the wishes of the populace “
They also wrote, “this does not mean that ordinary citizens always lose out; they fairly often get the policies they favor, but only because those policies happen also to be preferred by the economically-elite citizens who wield the actual influence.”(Gilens & Page, 2014).
This was called the “Duh Report” in the media in both the US and the UK (BBC, 2014)
It is important to keep in mind that this report does not include changes made since 2002 such as;
In the 2010 case of Citizens United vs the FEC (Federal Election Commission), the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that corporations are people with the right to free speech in the form of money, and that money or “speech” can be unlimited and secret. Even foreign powers can now secretly buy candidates and win elections. Keep in mind that corporations can not get arrested like people, do not die, were never born, do not have a conscience or a heart. In fact, by law a corporation is bound to do everything it can to make the most money by any and all means. Let’s be real – corporations are not people. Money is not speech.
What this decision did is make it harder than ever, virtually impossible for any smaller party to have any chance. As the Green Party’s co-chair Sanda Everette said, “The ruling especially hurts the ability of parties that don’t accept corporate contributions, like the Green Party, to compete.” (Hall, 2016).
As Ralph Nader puts it, “With this decision, corporations can now directly pour vast amounts of corporate money, through independent expenditures, into the electoral swamp already flooded with corporate campaign PAC contribution dollars.” (Nader, 2010), (Hall, 2016).
Pat Choate, former VP candidate for the Reform Party said. “The court has, in effect, legalized foreign governments and foreign corporations to participate in our electoral politics.” ~ Pat Choate, former VP candidate for the Reform Party (Hall, 2016).
Fred Wertheimer, a campaign finance reformer wrote, “Exxon or any other firm could spend Bloomberg-level sums in any congressional district in the country against, say, any congressman who supports climate change legislation, or health care, etc.” (NY Times, Eds., 2010).
In a NY Times Editorial (2010), David Kirkpatrick “The Supreme Court has handed lobbyists a new weapon. A lobbyist can now tell any elected official: if you vote wrong, my company, labor union or interest group will spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against your re-election.” ~ David Kirkpatrick, NY Times Editorial, 2010
It is no wonder why this has been called the “most serious threat to American democracy in a generation” (Alter, 2010).
Later in 2010, the DISCLOSE act (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act – H.R. 5175 (S.3628-Senate) ) was a bill brought before Congress that would have prohibited foreign powers from buying US elections and make it so that large donations (over $10,000) would be disclosed so that the voting public can know which politicians are owned by which corporations, 501(c)s, and etc. Congress voted it down. BOTH Republicans and Democrats voted against the bill. BOTH. Both parties. (Library of Congress 2009-2010).
A different version of the same bill, called DISCLOSE Act 2 by some, was brought before Congress in July of 2012. Once again both Democrats and Republicans said, (Helderman, 2012)
In so doing, they have almost totally killed the last shred of democracy in our electoral system. Now politicians can be bought in total secret and by foreign powers (FOREIGN ? PUPPET). So, you have no idea who you are actually voting for. You cast votes for puppets without knowing who the puppet master is. That is not Democracy. Democracy is laying there in critical condition.
Does all this mean that there is no chance to save our democracy? No, of course not. Here are a few possible solutions;
POSSIBLE SOLUTION 1 – Consider donating to Wolf-PAC which is a super PAC to end all PACs. Their goal is a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United, to limit all campaign donations to a maximum of $100 per doner, none of this super-mega-ultra corporation donating ultra-mega money.
There are two routes for getting an Amendment to the Constitution;
The first way is for Congress to pass it. Wolf PAC went to Congress to ask the to pass it. Of course, Congress (both Democrats and Republicans) voted “NO!”. These people do not represent us.
The second and only other route to get a Constitutional Amendment is to go to the states and have each state ratify it. If two thirds of the states ratify it (that’s 27 states), it will then be forced back before Congress where they will again deal with it. Only, by this time, Congress will of course be aware that the majority stand very clearly and vocally stand behind this Constitutional Amendment. Some call this “the mandate of the people”. Hopefully, Congress will realize that going against this would be very bad for their careers and hopefully Congress would pass it.
This grass roots movement to get this Constitutional Amendment is spreading. As of September, 2016, 5 states have passed it, it’s pending in 7 other states. Would Wolf PAC solve the problem? Wolf PAC would add a 28th amendment to the US Constitution, thereby overturning multiple Supreme Court cases including Citizens United v. FEC and Buckley v. Valeo. (Wolf-PAC, n.d.)
Now, Let me be clear – I do not know if the Wolf-PAC people are not corrupt and I do not know how well it would work, having not formally studied constitutional law, although I have studied it informally in the area of church and state. But one thing I feel confident stating is the problems illustrated in the Princeton study predate the Citizens United decision and so solving the Citizens United problem might prevent it from getting exponentially worse but it won’t solve the pre-existing problems discussed in the Princeton study.
POSSIBLE SOLUTION 2 – Consider the campaign by Represent Us to get the America Anti-Corruption Act passed in 27 states. This would bypass Congress just like Wolf PAC would (theoretically). As with Wolf PAC, I can not say how effective this campaign is. But they do say that their act would cover a lot of the corruption that Wolf PAC doesn’t, the problems illustrated in the Princeton study. For more info see the links in the description below to the Represent Us websites . . . (Represent.US, 2015), (Represent.US, 2016)
POSSIBLE SOLUTION 3 – There is also the People’s Rights Amendment which would overturn the Citizens United decision and establish that only actual people are people and that only actual people have Constitutional rights. (Clements, 2012), (Free Speech For the People, n.d.)
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS OR CRACKPOT IDEAS?
I have some of my own ideas.
Imagine if we were rid of all the promotional spending by campaigns and replace them with equal and free TV air time for every candidate as a public service.
I have an other suggestion that I offer for consideration, though it may seem crazy and it may be a foolish suggestion. Maybe, just maybe, we should require people to pass a test before they are allowed to vote. People are not allowed to operate motor vehicles until they can demonstrate competency. So, why can’t we require that voters demonstrate competency before voting. I would suggest that people must actually demonstrate basic knowledge of the actual platforms and positions if the candidates before voting. In other words, all voters should be informed voters because if they are not informed they have no business voting. But it is not hard to point out flaws in this idea, especially from the view of Constitutional Law.
Here’s an idea that will sound bizarre but only because in an insane system it’s so rational; and this is Tabatha’s idea, by the way, a Constitutional Amendment that absolutely forbids politicians from having and acting upon a conflict of interests. A conflict of interest can be defined as “a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgment or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.” (Lo & Field, 2009), (Thompson, 1993)
It would be unthinkable to allow for a conflict of interest in a court of law, of course, but for some reason, it’s not only allowed in politics, but it’s virtually synonymous with American politics. Tabatha’s as-a-matter-of-fact idea is very wise and sound. A system in which politicians do not have a conflict between the interests of the people and their own interests is arguably the most important aspect of political ethics. Rather than a conflict of interests, they should have what James Madison called a communion of interests. In the Federalist Paper 57, James Madison wrote;
“. . . in the situation of the House of Representatives, restraining them from oppressive measures, that they can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society.
This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interests and sympathy of sentiments, of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny. If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America, a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it. If this spirit shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate any thing but liberty. Such will be the relation between the House of Representatives and their constituents. Duty, gratitude, interest, ambition itself, are the chords by which they will be bound to fidelity and sympathy with the great mass of the people.” (Madison, 1788)
I think that in a perfect democracy, all candidates would have an equal chance, money would make no difference in campaigns so that a candidate with no reason to favor the rich and powerful has as much of a chance as a corporate puppet does. Also, all voters would have easy access to fair and accurate information on the positions and platforms of the candidates and all of the irrelevant stuff (which is almost all of what Americans actually know about the candidates) are totally eliminated from the media. This would make it so that people will make informed decisions. Without informed voters, there is no effective democracy.
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Bill and Summary Status – 111th Congress (2009-2010) – S.3628 – THOMAS (Library of Congress).
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Footnote: Quotes from Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens include;
“Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US
government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” (Gilens & Page, 2014).
“When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status
quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.” (Gilens &
“America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.” (Gilens & Page, 2014).
“the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
They say also that the average American has the “least effect” on the decisions politicians make. And, “The net alignments of the most influential,
business-oriented groups are negatively related to the average citizen’s wishes. So existing interest groups do not serve effectively as transmission belts
for the wishes of the populace “(Gilens & Page, 2014).
“. . . this does not mean that ordinary citizens always lose out; they fairly often get the policies they favor, but only because those policies happen also to
be preferred by the economically-elite citizens who wield the actual influence.”(Gilens & Page, 2014).
“In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule” (Gilens & Page, 2014).
“When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo
bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.” (Gilens &
“Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech . . . but . . . America’s claims to
being a democratic society are seriously threatened.“ (Gilens & Page, 2014).
Gilens, Martin, and Banjamin L. Page. “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.” Perspectives on Politics 12.3 (2014): 564-81. American Political Science Association. Web. 25 Oct. 2015. doi:10.1017/S1537592714001595 <https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf>.