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Bill Moyers: Our Politicians Are Money Launderers Not Too Different from Tony Soprano

Americans have learned the hard way that when rich organizations and wealthy individuals shower Washington with millions in campaign contributions, they get what they want.

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They found the culprit: “It’s the politics, stupid!” Tracing the clues back to that “unseen revolution” of the 1970s – the revolt triggered by Lewis Powell, fired up by William Simon, and fueled by rich corporations and wealthy individuals – they found that ‘Step by step and debate by debate America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefitted the few at the expense of the many.”

There you have it: they bought off the gatekeepers, got inside, and gamed the system. And when the fix was in, they let loose the animal spirits. turning our economy into a feast for predators. And they won – as the rich and powerful got richer and more powerful – they not only bought the government, they “saddled Americans with greater debt, tore new holes in the safety net, and imposed broad financial risks on workers, investors, and taxpayers.” Until – write Hacker and Pierson – “The United States is looking more and more like the capitalist oligarchies of Brazil, Mexico, and Russia where most of the wealth is concentrated at the top while the bottom grows later and larger with everyone in between just barely getting by.”

The revolt of the plutocrats has now been ratified by the Supreme Court in its notorious Citizens United decision last year. Rarely have so few imposed such damage on so many. When five pro-corporate conservative justices gave “artificial entities” the same rights of “free speech” as living, breathing human beings, they told our corporate sovereigns “the sky’s the limit” when it comes to their pouring money into political campaigns. The Roberts Court embodies the legacy of pro-corporate bias in justices determined to prevent democracy from acting as a brake on excessive greed and power in the private sector. Wealth acquired under capitalism is in and of itself no enemy of democracy, but wealth armed with political power – power to shake off opportunities for others to rise – is a proven danger. Thomas Jefferson had hoped that “we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and [to] bid defiance to the laws of our country.” James Madison feared that the “spirit of speculation” would lead to “a government operating by corrupt influence, substituting the motive of private interest in place of public duty.”

Jefferson and Madison didn’t live to see reactionary justices fulfill their worst fears. In 1886 a conservative court conferred the divine gift of life on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Never mind that the Fourteenth Amendment declaring that no person should be deprived of “life, liberty or property without due process of law” was enacted to protect the rights of freed slaves. The Court decided to give the same rights of “personhood” to corporations that possessed neither a body to be kicked nor a soul to be damned. For over half a century the Court acted to protect the privileged. It gutted the Sherman Antitrust Act by finding a loophole for a sugar trust. It killed a New York state law limiting working hours. Likewise a ban against child labor. It wiped out a law that set minimum wages for women. And so on: one decision after another aimed at laws promoting the general welfare.” The Roberts Court has picked up the mantle: Moneyed interests first, the public interest second, if at all.

The ink was hardly dry on the Citizens United decision when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce organized a covertly funded front and rained drones packed with cash into the 2010 campaigns. According to the Sunlight Foundation, corporate front groups spent $126 million in the fall of 2010 while hiding the identities of the donors. Another corporate cover group – the American Action Network – spent over $26 million of undisclosed corporate money in just six Senate races and 26 House elections. And Karl Rove’s groups – American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS – seized on Citizens United to raise and spend at least $38 million that NBC News said came from “a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls”– all determined to water down financial reforms designed to prevent another collapse of the financial system. Jim Hightower has said it well: Today’s proponents of corporate plutocracy “have simply elevated money itself above votes, establishing cold, hard cash as the real coin of political power.”

 
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