The political power grab by corporate America was first conceived of in the early 1970’s by soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell in a now-infamous memo to the US Chamber of Commerce. “It is time for American business — which has demonstrated the greatest capacity in all history to produce and to influence consumer decisions — to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself,” he wrote.
Then, once a member of the high court, Powell gave his affluent allies a very powerful tool to use toward this goal in his majority opinion for First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, which fgave corporations a right to spend money in politics and was used as the foundation for the Citizens United decision that extended that right indefinitely.
Thus, Powell is in many ways the godfather of what authors Bob McChesney and John Nichols named their new book, and what they say the American experience is currently mired in: Dollarocracy.
“A democracy is the rule of the people,” McChesney says. “It means everyone is equal with an equal amount of power. Dollarocacy is rule by money. Those with lots of money have lots of votes and those with no money get almost no votes.”
Unlimited, anonymous money drives campaigns and funds so-called think tanks that drum up positive public relations for corporate interests. Voting rights are being effectively rolled back through ID laws and other extra-legal efforts such as poll monitoring. And at the same time, newsrooms – the traditional watchdog of political malfeasance – are shrinking and don’t have the resources to vet campaign commercials and think tank propaganda.
But McChesney and Nichols not only point out the problem in their new book. They also offer solutions.
“We have to take lead in breaking out of this trap and find an alternative,” Nichols said. “And not by tinkering around edges of the crisis they have created. Our job is to address the crisis head on. Not talk about candidates and parties but to talk about fundamental structure of government and media.”
As has occurred during other great American epochs, a Constitutional Convention is needed to make some fundamental changes to how government works, they said, to address money in politics and voting rights.
“There are ways to make this country’s governance a reflection of what the people want,” Nichols said. “It’s not hard. First off you get the money out, people are crying out for that. If we make movement s towards small d democracy and create a system where ideas matter more than dollars, then I dare say we can reach out to our tea party friends because they not getting what they want from the Koch Brothers.”
Nichols and McChesney will be at Brown on Wednesday to discuss the ideas in their new book, which you can buy here: