Writers Articles And Opinions
09 October 2010
By Robert Reich
Not only is income and wealth in
America more concentrated in fewer hands than it’s
been in 80 years, but those hands are buying our
democracy as never before – and they’re doing it
behind closed doors.
Hundreds of millions of secret dollars
are pouring into congressional and state races in this
election cycle. The Koch brothers (whose personal
fortunes grew by $5 billion last year) appear to be
behind some of it, Karl Rove has rounded up other
multi-millionaires to fund right-wing candidates, the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce is funneling corporate
dollars from around the world into congressional
races, and Rupert Murdoch is evidently spending
No one knows for sure where this flood
of money is coming from because it’s all secret.
But you can safely assume its purpose
is not to help America’s stranded middle class,
working class, and poor. It’s to pad the nests of the
rich, stop all reform, and deregulate big corporations
and Wall Street – already more powerful than since the
late 19th century when the lackeys of
robber barons literally deposited sacks of cash on the
desks of friendly legislators.
Credit the Supreme Court’s grotesque
decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election
Commission, which opened the floodgates. (Even though
8 of 9 members of the Court also held disclosure laws
constitutional, the decision invited the creation of
shadowy “nonprofits” that don’t have to reveal
According to FEC data, only 32 percent
of groups paying for election ads are disclosing the
names of their donors. By comparison, in the 2006
midterm, 97 percent disclosed; in 2008, almost half
Last week, when the Senate considered
a bill to force such disclosure, every single
Republican voted against it – thereby revealing the
GOP’s true colors, and presumed benefactors. (To
understand how far the GOP has come, nearly ten years
ago campaign disclosure was supported by 48 of 54
Maybe the Disclose Bill can get passed
in lame-duck session. Maybe the IRS will make sure
Karl Rove’s and other supposed nonprofits aren’t sham
political units. Maybe pigs will learn to fly.
In the meantime we face an election
that marks an even sharper turn toward plutocratic
capitalism than before – a government by and for the
rich and big corporations — and away from democratic
As income and wealth has moved to the
top, so has political power. That’s why, for example,
it’s been impossible to close the absurd tax loophole
that allows hedge-fund and private-equity managers to
treat much of their income as capital gains, subject
to a 15 percent tax (even though they’re earning tens
or hundreds of millions a year, and the top 15
hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion
last year). Why it proved impossible to fund expanded
health care by limiting the tax deductions of the very
rich. Why it’s so difficult even to extend George
Bush’s tax cuts for the bottom 98 percent of Americans
without also extending them for the top 2 percent –
even though the top won’t spend the money and create
jobs, but will blow a $36 billion hole in the federal
budget next year.
The good news is average Americans are
beginning to understand that when the rich secretly
flood our democracy with money, the rest of us drown.
Wall Street executives and top CEOs get bailed out
while under-water homeowners and jobless workers sink.
A Quinnipiac poll earlier this year
found overwhelming support for a millionaire tax.
But what the public wants means
nothing if our democracy is secretly corrupted by big
Right now we’re headed for a perfect
storm: An unprecedented concentration of income and
wealth at the top, a record amount of secret money
flooding our democracy, and a public in the aftershock
of the Great Recession becoming increasingly angry and
cynical about government. The three are obviously
We must act. We need a movement to
take back our democracy. (If tea partiers were true to
their principles, they’d join it.) As Martin Luther
King once said, the greatest tragedy is “not the
strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling
silence of the good people.”
What can you do?
1. Read Justice Steven’s dissent in
the Citizens United case, so you’re fully informed
about the majority’s pernicious illogic.
2. Use every opportunity to speak out
against this decision, and embarrass and condemn the
right-wing Justices who supported it.
3. In this and subsequent elections,
back candidates for congress and president who vow to
put Justices on the Court who will reverse it.
4. Demand that the IRS enforce the law
and pull the plug on Karl Rove and other sham
5. If you have a Republican senator,
insist that he or she support the Disclose Act. If
they won’t, campaign against them.
6. Support public financing of
7. Join an organization like Common
Cause, that’s committed to doing all this and getting
big money out of politics. (Personal note: I’m so
outraged at what’s happening that I just became
chairman of Common Cause.)
8. Send this post to your friends
(including any tea partiers you may know).
Robert Reich is Professor of Public Policy at
the University of California at Berkeley. He has
served in three national administrations, most
recently as secretary of labor under President Bill
Clinton. He has written twelve books, including The
Work of Nations, Locked in the Cabinet, and his most
recent book, Supercapitalism. His "Marketplace"
commentaries can be found on publicradio.com and