It seems that almost every day we are reminded that our federal government is no longer “of the people, by the people, for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln reverently described it in his 1863 Gettysburg Address. Rather, we see evidence repeatedly that our current government serves not the will of the people, but the will of wealthy individuals, large corporations and special interests. Two recently reported events underscore this tragic betrayal of our forefather’s vision of a democratic republic.
An article in The Santa Fe New Mexican (“Uranium firm sought cut of Bears Ears monument,” The Washington Post, Dec. 9), revealed that Energy Fuels Resources (USA) had spent substantial sums lobbying to get the monument declassified so that it could have “easier access to the area’s uranium deposits and help it operate a nearby processing mill.” Its lead lobbyist was Andrew Wheeler, who, not surprising for the Trump administration, “is awaiting Senate confirmation as the Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy secretary.” Yet the country was “reassured” concurrently by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and top Utah Republicans that “questions of mining and drilling played no role in President Donald Trump’s announcement … that he was cutting the site by 1.1 million acres, or 85 percent.” Of course not.
Another example appeared in an article by The Washington Post (“The FCC just voted to repeal its net neutrality rules, in a sweeping act of deregulation,” Dec. 14). The article states, “The “3-2 [FCC] vote, which was along party lines, enabled the FCC’s Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, to follow through on his promise to repeal the government’s 2015 net neutrality rules, which required Internet providers to treat all websites, large and small, equally.”
Now internet providers will be allowed to vary internet speeds and access to content based upon price. The beneficiaries of this drastic reversal in principle and policy are, of course, internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, not the hundreds of millions of U.S. internet consumers.
The deleterious influence of “big money” in U.S. politics is certainly not new. Over the course of the 20th century and at the beginning of this one, Congress, in response to various scandals, repeatedly enacted laws to regulate campaign finance, prohibiting contributions by corporations and labor unions and imposing reasonable limits on individual donations and expenditures.
Unfortunately, all that good work has been entirely undone by the U.S. Supreme Court in its decision in cases such as Buckley v. Valleo, Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, and by lower courts in decisions based upon them. As a result, the pace at which torrents of money, much of it “dark,” i.e. unreported, from wealthy special interests gush into our elections has accelerated exponentially. The scandalous, unreported donation to President Richard Nixon’s campaign from an insurance company executive in 1972 that prompted the significant reforms enacted in the 1974 amendments to the Federal Elections Campaign Act was $2 million. By contrast, the Koch brothers alone amassed $889 million to spend in the 2016 elections.
Americans must face the bitter realization that we no longer live in a democratic republic but a plutocracy, an oligarchy or a combination: a “plutarchy.” The rich and powerful few are in control. If we ever want to take our government back and have it truly represent, work for and answer to all the people, we must eliminate the overwhelming influence that wealthy individuals, large corporations and special interest groups have upon our elections. Citizens United v. FEC and the other disastrous court decisions that have put a stranglehold upon Congress’ ability to establish meaningful campaign finance reform must be overturned.
There is only one viable way to accomplish that necessary goal: Congress must pass and two-thirds of the states’ legislatures must ratify a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution that requires Congress, the states and local governments to impose realistic, effective limits and restrictions upon, and require full and complete disclosure of, all campaign contributions and expenditures.
Today, the idea of passing a constitutional amendment sounds like a difficult task, but it is neither impossible nor even remarkable. Eleven of the 27 constitutional amendments were ratified in the 20th century, the last in 1992, only a quarter-century ago. For it to become a reality, “we, the people” must mobilize and unite. Fortunately, we do not have to start from square one. Eight bills for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics have been introduced before our 115th U.S. Congress, one of them by our own Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. Eighteen states, New Mexico included, have passed resolutions in support of such an amendment, and 42 more resolutions are pending. Several national organizations — Move to Amend, American Promise, Free Speech for People, Reclaim Democracy, United for the People and New Mexico’s own New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics — are dedicated and working diligently toward achieving that end.
So get out there. Join one or more of the organizations working toward the passage of a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics, roll up your sleeves and start working. Talk to your federal, state and local representatives and tell them you strongly support this burgeoning national effort and that you want them to actively work for it, too. Then, keep it up until the job is done and our democratic republic has been restored.
John L. House is a director of the board of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a New Mexico nonprofit corporation.