The Insufficient Influence of the Wealthy

We won't solve our economic problems with more influence from people who are able to hire lobbyists or write checks to candidates or super PACs. We'll solve them with more influence from more everyday Americans.
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Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) traveled to Florida recently to help raise money for embattled Representative Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.). "Two Bentleys, an Aston Martin and a Maserati" sat parked outside, according to a report from the Bradenton Herald.

Two Bentleys, an Aston Martin, and a Maserati.

How many people back in John Boehner's western Ohio district own cars like that? It perfectly illustrates our broken political system, one in which members of Congress are begging for cash from people whose cars are worth more than the underwater mortgages of their constituents.

Billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin showed a similar level of "out-of-touch-ness" when he told the Chicago Tribune this week that the ultrawealthy "actually have an insufficient influence" in our political system.

He said that, "Those who have enjoyed the benefits of our system more than ever now owe a duty to protect the system that has created the greatest nation on this planet."

Sure, he meant American capitalism, but he could easily be referring to our political system that he, his wealthy friends, and their Congressional acolytes have contorted to their benefit: one that pits the wealthy against everyday Americans who are unable to hire lobbyists or write checks to candidates or super PACs.

Griffin, after all, is a major player. He has donated $100,000 so far to the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future. He has maxed out to Romney's campaign, donated $300,000 to Karl Rove's American Crossroads, Eric Cantor, and a host of other campaigns and committees. In 2011, his company, Citadel Investments, spent $320,000 to lobby Congress and federal regulators.

According to reports filed with the House Clerk's office, the company lobbied on "Legislative and regulatory services relating to tax treatment of investment partnerships and capital gains."

You can bet his contributions and his company's lobbying wasn't for higher taxes or even tax reform to get rid of corporate loopholes. No, Wall Street lobbyists work to ensure that billionaires and millionaires get to keep their low tax rates while Congress comes up with more ways to cut vital programs for poor and middle class families.

There's nothing wrong with being successful or owning a Maserati. The problem is when some people treat collecting politicians or political favors the way they treat collecting fancy cars. We need a political system that works for all Americans and not just the one percent.

We need a system like the Fair Elections Now Act, which would allow candidates to run competitive campaigns for office by collecting small contributions from people back home. Those donations of $100 or less would be matched on a five-to-one basis, allowing candidates to spend time talking with voters and addressing our country's problems rather than jet-setting to cities with the most millionaires.

Griffin says in the interview that, "This is the first time class warfare has really been embraced as a political tool."

The reality is, he's wrong. Not only have we seen the stratification of class, a regular feature of political campaigns throughout our history, those who bemoan it now are ones that have been the winners for years. The truth of the matter is that the past several decades of growing income inequality is a product of, and is being reinforced by, growing political inequality.

And we won't solve our economic problems with more influence from people like him. We'll solve them with more influence from more everyday Americans, not fewer.

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