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Democracy for Sale: Dark Money...Dark Times

Dark Money, Dark Times

Fourteen years ago, nearly to the day, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a disastrous 5-4 decision in Citizens United v FEC, which profoundly exacerbated a core issue shaping modern American politics: the overwhelming power and influence granted to wealthy individuals and corporations through the legalized bribery – or campaign contributions in “polite” circles – of our politicians, drowning out the people’s voice. In Citizen’s United, the then 5-4 conservative majority of SCOTUS declared that not only could wealthy special interests participate in political campaigns, but that their identities could be kept secret while doing so. 

Critics of the decision at the time rightly predicted the deluge of dark money that has further swamped our corrupt political system, leaving the American people even further disenfranchised from policy choices and legislation. However, not even the dourest of individuals predicted just how quickly the system would decay. In less than a decade from the decision, campaign spending has exploded, especially so-called dark money spending, and we elected as president a corrupt billionaire from the donor class who bragged on the debate stage that he had bought all of the other politicians running against him through campaign donations. The corrupt system laid bare in its entirety, for all to see, in a fitting culmination of the donor class takeover.

The story of course didn't start with Citizen’s United. Decades earlier, two key blows were struck against representative democracy in 1976 with Buckley v Valeo, and again in 1978 with First National Bank v Bellotti. These two decisions redefined our political system, giving the legal constructs, often called corporations, first amendment protections, and including political campaign contributions as a form of speech. Within a matter of years, this initial influx of corporate cash gave us President Reagan, and the “Reagan Revolution,” an eerie parallel to the "Trumpian Revolution" of the 2010s. 

Tragically, despite the increasing awareness and continued unpopularity of donor class money corrupting our politics since the Citizen’s United decision there have been few-to-no tangible reforms at the Federal level. In fact, the Supreme Court has become even more radical, with the recent Trump appointees moving the court’s opinion ever further from the American people’s consensus on this (and many other) issue(s).

 It's clear that the coalition being built to fight this ever-worsening political corrosion needs not only political power and solidarity, but also economic power and solidarity. We must build a coalition across professional sectors, across geography, across generations, and across race and creed. We must join together to build an economic cudgel wielded on behalf of our political coalition which can stand against the donor class of billionaires and multinational corporations.Together we can build a coalition to outlast the anti-democratic forces against us! 

We have the people, now we must strike with urgency and build this movement quickly to fight back against the rising tide of authoritarianism seen once-more in this upcoming election. Politics which only engages at the ballot box will not be enough. We need to speak the language of power, to have our voices heard. So join us each Tuesday in growing solidarity, along with our newest partners at the Staten Island Amazon Labor Union. Together we can build a movement to take back our democracy, so join us and Don't Shop on Tuesday!

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