The Oligarchs Rule

In a 1971 memo, Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer and soon to be a Supreme Court Justice, stressed the need for change in how the business community participated in politics. That memo was in response to numerous successful efforts that advanced the public interest in many areas.

Since Powell’s memo, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and other wealthy and powerful groups and individuals have staged a slow-motion takeover of our government. These oligarchs, through their money, have corrupted all branches of government as well as many of the regulatory agencies. This corruption has led to a system of crony capitalism.

Here are a few examples demonstrating the extent of the takeover.

Campaign Financing

Recent Supreme Court decisions on the 2010 Citizens United case and the April 2, 2014 McCutcheon v. the FEC case opened the floodgates to huge amounts of money pouring into elections. These decisions allow the wealthy and powerful to exercise even more undue influence over candidates and the outcomes of elections.

The unseemly pilgrimage to Las Vegas over the last weekend in March of some possible Republican candidates for president demonstrated these politicians’ lust for campaign funds. These men went to Las Vegas to participate in the ‘Sheldon Adelson primary’ and to meet other wealthy Jewish donors. In case you don’t recognize Adelson’s name, he and his wife Miriam spent $93 million during the 2012 election and they intend to invest more in 2016. Given that a key Adelson litmus test is support for Israel, these Republican politicians tried to outdo one another in showing their devotion to Israel.

Housing Finance Reform

On March 11th, the leaders of the Senate Banking committee announced an agreement on a housing finance reform proposal. The proposal, despite all the groups backing it and the support from President Obama, appears to be another huge taxpayer rip-off. A key provision of the proposal would limit investors’ losses in mortgage backed securities to 10% of their investments. Taxpayers would be required to reimburse investors for any additional losses. This federal support would make these investments very attractive while hurting competing investments such as municipal bonds that fund state and local improvements.

However, provision of this assurance, without real improvement in upgrading the criteria for qualifying for a mortgage, would likely lead to another huge financial disaster. Instead of providing more corporate welfare for the too-big-to-fail banks, a reasonable reform would be to continue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as public entities.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations

Six hundred representatives from the corporate world, and almost nobody representing the public interest, have been working with the U.S. trade negotiators on the Trans-Pacific Partnership since March 2010. Although marketed as a trade agreement, only 5 of its 29 chapters deal with traditional trade issues such as tariffs. Most of the chapters deal with topics such as increasing the length of drug patents, removal of bank regulations, and empowering corporations to challenge laws protecting our environmental and health safeguards.

If you have not heard of this negotiation, don’t be surprised since the oligarch-controlled media have generally avoided this topic, called “NAFTA on steroids” by many activists. We know how poorly NAFTA turned out for the average worker versus how well it turned out for the rich and powerful.

As of August 2013, there were 12 Pacific Rim nations secretly negotiating the details of the agreement. Obama strongly supports these negotiations that would lead to a further entrenchment of corporate control at the expense of democracy and sovereignty.

Climate change, Wall Street, and health care

Three additional examples are the roles of: 1) the fossil fuel companies in preventing any real movement on climate change; 2) the gigantic banks that led to the transfer of trillions of dollars from the 99.99% of us to the those at the very top of the wealth ladder; and 3) the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries in increasing health care costs unnecessarily while limiting health care coverage.

Community Rights Networks

One way of reclaiming our rights from this corrupt system is to join with others. One group working to promote local self government is the Colorado Community Rights Network. This group is attempting to get an initiative on the ballot here this year. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund works nationally to help us reclaim our rights.

Ron Forthofer is a retired professor of biostatistics from the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston and was a Green Party candidate for Congress and also for governor of Colorado. Read other articles by Ron.