Does money – or dirty sources – ruin politics?

Is there clean money?By Robert Becker

Progressive Pushes “Perform or Payback” Plan

Declaration by Oswald M. Griswold III, progressive/entrepreneur/activist

Since our political hubs begin to loom as business subsidiaries for the biggest banks, energy-industrial cartels, and unhinged billionaires, let’s fight back with a business-reward model for progressive campaigns. If corporations are people, why can’t the residual left reinvent itself, just like willful corporations that leverage deductible “investments” — or go elsewhere? Think: lemon law for progressives.

Here stands our era’s dilemma — will the majority “take back,” indeed restore our collective national assets, or will more get brazenly auctioned off to the highest bidder? Not so long ago, a more equitable balance of liberal powers took on dinosaurs: sustained movements in Congress and the streets gained civil rights and impeded wars of empire; energetic labor unions offset greedy owners, forcing greater profit-sharing; and more mindful, better-educated Main Streeters defended their own bloody self-interest, fostering government as the great leveler, not politics as toxic divider.

Why only yesterday, the wealthiest coveted businesses, resources, and sufficient political clout to prevent onerous interventions, but stopped short of trying to own everything. Since 1980’s, the narrative speaks to rightwing dominance of the Supreme Court, media, elections, redistricting and voting privileges, personal medical decisions, and cutting employment (via outsourcing) and middle-class access to capital (thanks to self-serving “loan” crises). And yet, money itself does not equal political ruination.

In fact, it’s naive, even impossible to separate money from power, let alone “take money out of politics.” For all of our history, power, class, propaganda and property inextricably mirror the same stone. The problem isn’t simply that money dominates politics, but that focused, reactionary owners have come to distort “the playing field” into a bruising, winner-take-all blood sport. What other solution is there other than forced sharing (read: equalizing wealth, fairer taxation, stronger regulations), though that means persuading the browbeaten majority that few share interests with fat cats and very, very few will ever amass oligarchic wealth.

Aren’t all dollars equal? 

If politics now equals money, then let it rip: after all, a dollar is a dollar when buying political influence — and progressives have campaign budgets, too. Or are our dollars inferior to Karl Rove’s? Let’s admit even the smallest “donor-investors” want value for dollar and that mandates bold, progressive PACs with mission statements like “Performance — or Reimbursement. Either we deliver on promises or we refund.”

Since these PACs would be “educational” and issue-drive (not candidate-driven), those with income could deduct donations against tax liability, just like big boys write off payola as “necessary” business expenses. A PoRPAC might budget only half of its take, withholding 50% if its “political-business agenda” flops badly — failing to impact tax fairness, or Pentagon spending, protecting Medicare/Soc. Security, or the environment, or restraining/punishing outlaw banks. Let’s imagine opening contributions would be larger because refunds would be part of the package. Why shouldn’t programs that reinforce collective infrastructure attract far more funding than goes to fundamentalist churches who resist the common good, climate change or science education, even slandering non-Christians as evil-doers? If not patriotism, why not cash incentives? Dividends?

Why shouldn’t the left heed the American value of “performance or refund,” even reinvent the discredited notion of “pay to play”? Even when successful, these PoRPACs could still refund, say, 10%, leaving the other 40% for next year’s fundraising/operating budgets. Maybe this scheme won’t work but something new must be tried. Wouldn’t this scenario increase mass participation, especially for those on a budget, thus answering the universal wail that low participation jeopardizes democracy?

Just because five deranged justices think the Constitution grants personhood to corporations, giving them control over their destiny, why not grant like-minded control of our destiny to the other 95%?  Either America favors self-rule (that conservative mantra) along with programs that acknowledge some greater, collective good, or this national experiment is over. Third-world, here we come. Better reconvene the Constitutional convention to rewrite a document stripped by bullies blessed with money but not knowledge or wisdom.

Everything is political  

Certainly, we’ve abandoned any ultimate humanistic goals as from “each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” But why not resurrect that wise “60’s cri de coeur, “Everything is political”? More obvious (and enlightening) than ever before, everything is political, whether food prices (and quality), weather, education, technological trends (think wind/solar energy), job mobility, interest rates, the nature and value of art, the growth of fundamentalism, even how fear-driven hysteria infects the terrified.

Why can’t two sides play the “regain the lost golden age” game? Why, in my very lifetime, I recall savvy politicians who got re-elected without gross pandering or obfuscating major issues with puny social wedges. Hey, Main Street, time is running out. Will your short-term, earth resource-depleting job “succeed” if the landscape is decimated, the air unfit to breathe, and your beloved grandchildren bereft of career and life options?

There’s no better way to defeat democracy from the inside except by the majority repeatedly voting against its best interests, especially when reinforcing the greater good. Either we find new ways to pay for elections, and thus government, or we remain captives to a tiny minority willing and able to pay off the pipers of power.

Note: O.M. Grisold III is, so far, a figment of my imagination, as in O.M.G. But his concerns aren’t imaginary, nor without relevance. And what are the other options on the table, either for funding or for widening participation?