There has been a good deal of news coverage about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to unleash corporate money's influence in politics.
The court's 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission gave corporations the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections. In addition, the ruling led to the creation of Super PACs, which have become a vehicle for corporations and wealthy individuals to pool their electoral influence-buying. Corporations can even make their political investments without full disclosure, hiding their political spending by giving to so-called charitable organizations or to trade associations which are not required to disclose their contributions but can advocate for or against candidates.
This ruling is already affecting elections on a national level. The domination of campaign contributions by Super PACs in this year's GOP presidential primary made national headlines and drowned out the voices of actual voters. Billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and three Texans — Bob Perry, Harold Simmons and Robert Rowling — pretty much determined that Mitt Romney would prevail. The three Texans alone not only gave more than $4.4 million to a Super PAC supporting Romney, they've also given $16.5 million to Karl Rove's American Crossroads group for the general election. Campaign costs are expected to hit record levels in the presidential race, with spending projected to total up to $10 billion.
The political influence of the top 1 percent allows those wealthy people to bend the laws to amass wealth ever faster at the expense of increasing national debt and massive unemployment.
Locally, our relatively clean Oregon elections are being muddied by out-of-state money. Case in point: This spring a large number of canvassers knocking on doors for Rep. Mike Schaufler in the May 15 primary were being paid to drum up votes for the five-term conservative Democrat. However, for many of the canvassers there was no record of payment in Schaufler's campaign finance reports or the political campaign committees trying to help Schaufler. That is a major problem. To evaluate campaign messages from independent political players, especially in comparison to messages directly from candidates, you need to know who is paying the bill. Thanks to some digging by reporters we now know that this particular effort was bankrolled in part by a pro-business group called "Grow Oregon," but still, nobody knows for sure who they are. The voters in Schaufler's district made their displeasure known. They voted 2-1 for Schaufler's opponent, Jeff Reardon, despite the fact that he was considered far more "liberal" in this conservative-leaning district.
Many Oregonians see these disastrous consequences of the Citizen's United ruling, and they have begun to push back. From Coos Bay to Joseph, Gresham to Ashland, people are organizing and standing up for democracy run for the people, by the people — not corporations and other special interests. People in cities and towns across the nation are organizing to pass local resolutions calling on communities to support — and the U.S. Congress to pass — a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. We have to take our rights back town by town, county by county, state by state. Each community will have to reverse Citizens United.
There is growing momentum across America. The state legislatures in New Mexico, Hawaii, Maryland and Vermont have demanded a constitutional amendment, and they've been joined by more than 200 cities and towns nationwide. Efforts are under way in 23 additional states and well over 100 more cities.
Jackson County should stand up for the rights of we the people by passing a resolution. We can add our voices to say no to the advantages that corporations gain from this ruling. We can continue to build a movement demanding that elected officials represent the people. If we do this, we move a little closer to restoring democracy.
To get involved in Jackson County, send an e-mail to JCMovetoAmend@gmail.com.
Rich Fairbanks lives in the Applegate Valley.