Redressing the oligarchs, because the money matters

“Congress shall make no law respecting…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights

We are Constitutionally empowered to redress the actions of our government, or its inaction, in matters both social and criminal. American activism is the quintessential expression of that guaranteed right.

Some put their talk to their feet, and march in protest. Some put their grievances to paper, press or keyboard, and some express with their wallets, either by withholding money through boycotts or by making it rain on a politician or a cause. The latter, it should be noted, has become a grievance in itself, for fear the Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon will give some voices an unfair advantage when it comes to petitioning for change.

Such is the case with the recent attacks by Democratic leaders on the obscenely wealthy, conservative buttresses, Charles and David Koch. “These two brothers are trying to buy America,” Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nevada) declared on the floor of the upper chamber, in late February.

Because they throw so much money at their robber baron agenda, laced with an unhealthy obsession against government and taxes, the Kochs have become an anathema to progressives and the liberal base of the Democrats. They also have the social sensitivity of Marie Antoinette.

“I guess if you make that much money, you can make these immoral decisions,” Reid added, in his chastisement of the pair’s funding of a group that is airing deliberately misleading ads against Democratic incumbents who voted for the Affordable Care Act. He said the commercials demonstrate that the Koch brothers may have money, but they “have no conscience and are willing to lie” to push their agenda.

“The Koch brothers are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine,” he said. Why such a nationalistic pejorative for two men just trying to lobby their government? Because Reid fears that policy in this country is made by the wealthy, and it is. But more about that below.

So why does Harry Reid bother putting statements like that on the record? That’s what one red state Democratic Senator wondered about the majority leader’s rant.

“If you’re trying to rally the base, the bases have already been rallied,” West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin told Fox News, earlier this month. “The right and left bases have been rallied.”

It may be true that, as the Senator says, “There’s people (sic) who don’t like the extreme Democrat politics or extreme Republican politics,” but the money for the political parties is not coming from those people. It’s coming from the ones closer to the extremes, who have an issue with, and perhaps even an unhealthy anxiety and fear of, the opposing party gaining control of the policy arm of our country.

Capitol SOLD

A recent study by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University bears out that it’s the money that makes policy in American politics. The study finds “that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Reid’s purpose, then, is more of a direct appeal to “average citizens.” He cannot ask for contributions outright, from the floor of the United States Senate, so he rails against folks like the Kochs, to remind the left just what the they’re fighting against, and to get them to pony up. House Republicans do the same thing, but in a more subtle way, by casting vote after futile vote to repeal the ACA.

Despite President Obama’s calls, last week, for the Republicans in Congress to stop the repeal train and realize that “it’s well past time to move on as a country and refocus our energy on the issues that the American people are most concerned about,” the House has vowed to keep it going.

The president rightly pointed out that “these endless, fruitless repeal efforts come at a cost,” but not for the John Boehner (R-Ohio), Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) and the rest of the House Republican caucus. Every one of those 50 times they’ve wasted the people’s time and money to hold one of those seemingly “fruitless” votes, it’s been anything but that for them, loading their campaign coffers with “speech” from conservative groups and tea party activists. The message to Congress is, hold a vote, get money.

As the university study says, “A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favor) is adopted only about 18% of the time, while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favor) is adopted about 45% of the time.” The money is the message, and according to the Supreme Court, the message is the money. You can expect a similar tactic in the Senate, if the GOP gets control next year.

The two professors go on to warn, that their “analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts… [W]e believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

Manchin, who considers himself a centrist, said it’s people like him who “have to start making something happen here in Washington to move this country forward.” That may be, but because of the Court’s decisions liberating campaign finance, it’s the extremists – and their money – who decide what moves on Capitol Hill. Centrists are left out in the cold. Except for a few organizations like No Labels and Third Way, there’s no place for the political centrist to have her valued voice heard, except, perhaps, by directly contributing to the candidate of her choice.

The American political system is not abiding those who politely decline to pick a side and stick with it, abhorring them for their unpredictability, but never shy to boast when they vote for the party favorite. That’s a bad thing, when the number of Americans identifying as independents is at its largest, ever.

If, as Manchin lamented about the partisan rhetoric pandering to the extremes, “we got to start being Americans again,” then we all must have equal power in redressing the Congress for our grievances. While this Court sits, that is unlikely, because our voice (money) isn’t “loud” enough to breach the Koch’s dam and reach Capitol Hill. But maybe it can have enough volume to reach Manchin’s Americans, and at least get them to vote for a future that preserves a role for government in helping sustain and improve people’s health and welfare. These used to be things reasonable people agreed on, but that’s when reason was free.


5 thoughts on “Redressing the oligarchs, because the money matters

  1. PG, your comment about the Koch brothers, “They also have the social sensitivity of Marie Antoinette” Couldn’t be more off base. They gave $100 million dollars to Presbyterian Hospital in NYC, the largest gift ever to the institution, Additionally, they reportedly gave, $15 million to Cornell Medical; $30 million to Sloan Kettering; $25 million to the Hospital for Special Surgery; $20 million to the American Museum on Natural History; $65 Million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; $100 million to Lincoln Center. And yet Harry Reid dumped on the Kochs from the floor of the Senate. As you quoted, “I guess if you make that much money, you can make these immoral decisions”. I just love the quote from the NY Post from March 16, 2014: “No hospital receiving funding from George Soros has to worry about a picket line forming outside, even though Soros funded Lynne Stewart, the radical lawyer who served four years in prison for providing material support to al Qaeda terrorism. But let’s not sweat it. It’s not like Soros backs terrorists. He merely backs those who back terrorists, so it’s cool.” A simple Google search will reveal millions more donated to the Smithsonian, PBS Nova Series, MIT and more. Not to mention the money the Brothers donate to causes supporting public policy, research on free societies and how it creates prosperity, and other worthy causes. By the way, the Koch brothers, along with the Goodfriend brothers and others are constitutionally, protected to use money to express ones self as noted in your well written article above.


    1. Thanks for this. So, of all the lines I wasn’t sure I should keep in this piece, the Marie Antoinette line was it. It’s true they are very philanthropic to various causes, and I am glad you point that out.
      However, when I wrote that line, I was thinking about their perspective on who it is that should be helping to support people in need. Their willingness to set aside some of their fortune and show some social responsibility is indeed laudable. The problem is they see charity as the only tolerable way to support the least able among us, and do not think government has a place there. I kept the line in because I was thinking of the monarch’s iconic, “Let them eat cake,” which implied a disdain of the notion of the state taking care of the poor.
      Again, thanks for the additional info.


      1. Thanks for the thoughtful response. Your point is understood. Although, i am not sure that the political organizations that the Brothers may support believe in no meaningful support for the disadvantaged in our community, I do see them putting there money where there mouth is in helping people. More to point, the essence of the argument to spend tax money on limited government functions, is an argument that promotes leaving income in the hands of those who earn it and keeping government small. The smaller the government, the larger the citizen. A strong argument can be made that the social engineering that began in the 40’s and took firm root in the 1960’s has a spotty record in decreasing the percentage of poor people in our society. The unintended consequences of these Great Society programs have had additional negative impact on the poor and disadvantaged. Perhaps instead of using your pen to give support to the destruction of fellow Americans like the Brothers, you can look at some reports, studies, news article and other sources to find the intersection of the liberal leaning polices of Big Government and the verifiable results of the policies. Then see if perhaps one might find some agreement with policies promoted by some of the people Harry Reid and other are trying to distort.


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