The Storm of Corruption

Just over a week before Election Day, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast with a devastating fury. Dozens of Americans lost their lives, large parts of New York and New Jersey remain underwater, and millions are still without power. As East Coasters begin the process of recovering from the hurricane's historic destruction, another storm rages on. This storm threatens not our lives or our property, but American democracy itself. It's the storm of corruption, and the flood of unlimited corporate money into our political system.

These two storms are inextricably linked.

The fossil fuel industry has spent over $150 million to influence Tuesday's election. As environmental expert Bill McKibben says, "[They] have bought one party and scared the other" -- and thus prevented any serious action to address climate change. Just last week, Chevron made the largest single corporate political donation in the history of American democracy. This industry warps our democracy just as it pollutes our atmosphere, and it's not alone in doing so. Wall Street banks, pharmaceutical companies, Big Agriculture, private prisons, and virtually every other major industry in the United States are taking advantage of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizen United decision -- which allows for unlimited corporate spending to influence our elections -- and flooding our political system with an unprecedented level of corporate cash. As a result Tuesday's election will be the most expensive in history, with experts projecting a total price tag of between $9.8 and $11 billion.

With the price of elections soaring, the careers of elected officials are increasingly dependent on their ability to court extremely wealthy donors. That dependency has outweighed their dependence on us, the American voters. As the distribution of political power shifts from one person-one vote to something more akin to one dollar-one vote, our government has become a government of the 1 percent that no longer serves the 99 percent. Thus our political system chronically fails to respond effectively to the crises that harm the American people, from the mortgage crisis to the jobs crisis to global climate change. As Hurricane Sandy so painfully demonstrates, the distortion of our democracy by Big Money presents a threat not only to the integrity of our political system but to the security of life on planet Earth as we know it.

Here in California, a ballot initiative purports to offer a solution to this challenge. In truth Proposition 32, referred to by supporters as the "Stop Special Interest Money Act," is no solution at all. The Koch brothers-funded initiative is a wolf in sheep's clothing that would make the problem even worse. Proposition 32 would restrict union members from coming together to have a voice in elections while creating massive special exemptions for thousands of business entities including big Wall Street firms and insurance companies. The proposition also creates exemptions for secretive Super PACs, allowing them to continue spending unlimited amounts of secret money to influence California elections. Proposition 32 is nothing short of fraud, diminishing the voice of working Californians while exempting the very same ultra-wealthy interests that are funding its campaign.

To really solve this problem we need a constitutional amendment and landmark federal legislation that bars private money from influencing elections and establishes that money is not First Amendment-protected speech and corporations are not entitled by the Constitution to the rights of natural persons. Unfortunately, too many entrenched interests stand in the way of such fundamental reform to expect our system to somehow self-correct. Voting alone won't get the job done. It's going to take a mass, nonviolent movement pushing our politicians from the outside to force them to do the right thing.

We know it's possible. Such movements have been the primary engine of democratic progress throughout our nation's history. From the abolitionists to the suffragettes, the union workers to the young civil rights activists and most recently the DREAMers, patriotic Americans have met the democratic struggles of their day with courage and put their bodies and freedom on the line to bring our nation closer to fulfilling its founding promise of "liberty and justice for all." Now is the time for this generation of Americans to take our place in this tradition and wage nonviolent struggle to free our democracy from the deepening and disastrous corruption of money. Sixteen young members of 99Rise, a new nonviolent movement to get Big Money out of American politics, have already spent a night in jail for fighting corruption. On Tuesday, Californians must go to the polls to vote down Proposition 32. After Election Day, all Americans who care for the future of our nation and the planet must find a way to join the struggle to free our democracy from the grips of Big Money and ensure that our government serves the needs of not just the 1 percent, but of all of us.