What's at Stake When Billionaires Try to Buy Our Democracy

Dorothy Ann Van, of Surf City, Long Beach Island, N.J., who was displaced by Superstorm Sandy, stands at the front of a line
Dorothy Ann Van, of Surf City, Long Beach Island, N.J., who was displaced by Superstorm Sandy, stands at the front of a line to vote Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Burlington, N.J., at a Mobile Voting Precinct. Election officials say Superstorm Sandy had knocked out about 900 polling places in one way or another. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The shameless spectacle of billionaires and multi-millionaires drowning the airwaves should not numb us to the consequences of what is at stake if the super rich succeed in buying our elections.

While most of the national focus is on the presidential race, the less-profiled California ballot measures provide a disturbing portrait of a clearly broken system.

California Propositions 32 and 33 in particular are just the latest example of the parade of billionaires, and the onslaught of super secretive committees financed by the 1 percent, who seem to think our votes are just another entitlement of their wealth.

Behind the torrent of spending is a dangerous agenda, for the future of our democracy and the last remaining shred of belief that everyone has an equal voice in our political system, but also for our health and living standards.

Their goal is removing all obstacles in public oversight to the pursuit of higher profit for the corporations they lead and greater wealth for the lavish lifestyles they enjoy. That means silencing opposition to their program, eliminating regulations that protect public health and putting in office candidates who will promote their legislative wish list.

What happens if they have a free pass?

• Reduced restrictions on pesticide use in the fields and looser standards for groundwater contaminants and refinery air emissions resulting in more outbreaks of e-coli in our food, increased hazardous waste in drinking water that sicken our children, and higher incidents of asthma and other pulmonary disease due to air pollution.

• Fewer limits on spiraling health insurance premiums, hospital charges and pharmaceutical prices, severely reduced scrutiny of unsafe hospitals and nursing homes practices, and sharp cuts in what patient care needs insurers must cover.

• Relaxed workplace safety rules leading to more dangerous accidents resulting in death and permanent injuries, and reversal of standards workers have fought to achieve, including sick leave, overtime pay, guaranteed meal and rest breaks, health benefits, pensions and protection from wage theft by unscrupulous employers.

• Higher gas, utility and cable prices, fewer protections for families devastated by wildfires or floods, and more dangerous, untested products in the stores.

• For all Californians, an open door to privatization or further underfunding of basic public services we all count on, including schools, police and fire protection, libraries, and street and other infrastructure repairs.

Donors to Prop. 32, the anti-union initiative, who incredulously claim they want to "stop special interest" domination of elections include:

• The far right American Future Fund, a major donor to Prop. 32, backed by big oil and energy corporations, which is also tied to the equally extreme Koch brothers. In addition to funding very conservative candidates across the country, the Koch brothers are noted for opposing any restrictions on the oil and gas industry and claiming climate science is false while challenging efforts to rein in the adverse effects of climate change.

B. Wayne Hughes, Jr., a board member of the secretive American Action Network which funds far right candidates and campaigns regularly against what it calls "regulatory burdens" and corporate taxes. Another is

Hotel magnate William Oberndorf, major proponent of private, for-profit schools.

• Americans for Responsible Leadership, an Arizona-based anti-tax, anti-union group that hides its donors and just dropped $11 million into the campaign to pass Prop. 32 and oppose Prop. 30, Gov. Brown's initiative to increase funding for education and healthcare mostly through taxes on the highest income Californians.

• Charles Munger, Jr., scion of Charles Munger Sr. -- vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway -- one of America's richest men, and the single largest donor to the Yes on 32/No on 30 effort. Together with his sister Molly, prime sponsor of Prop. 38, the more flawed election initiative, the younger Mungers have already spent nearly $60 million in this election alone.

Then there is George Joseph, architect of Prop. 33, a deceptive bid to raise auto insurance rates. Joseph is the billionaire founder of Mercury Insurance. As the Los Angeles Times noted, Joseph "has personally contributed 99.5 percent of the $16.2 million raised by Proposition 33's official sponsor, the American Agents Alliance, a trade group of independent insurance agents and brokers."

Typically for the billionaires assaulting our elections, Joseph has tried repeatedly in the state legislature and initiative process to override limits on auto insurers, and Prop. 33 is a virtual rerun of the nearly identical Prop. 17 initiative he financed that was defeated by voters just two years ago. But the new plutocrats, unlike regular Californians, can just replay the same effort, as they have with earlier versions of Prop. 32 in 1998 and 2005, over and over again.

Multiply these by hundreds of the super rich and their furtive committees with hidden donors and the threat to the core of our democracy, and the safeguards and the way of life for those not among the wealthy elite comes into focus.

It will be up to all of us to send a message that we had an uprising in this nation once to emphasize that our country did not belong to an aristocracy, and we will not accept their corrupted vision of our republic.