Big money ruins democracy

When businesses buy government, the people must take action.

Tyler Stierwalt

Last year, as the U.S. economy ground to a halt (brought on by reckless lending and decades of bad regulatory policy) the banks walked off with $1 trillion in bailouts, and industries that had not kept pace with overseas competition (ahem, auto companies) were propped up by the government because they were âÄútoo big to fail.âÄù And that was before the Supreme Court last month repealed all limits on corporate political spending. The good news is that something can be done to prevent a wholesale take-over of our democracy by big money. Want to help? Read on. Everyone knows it costs millions of dollars to run for political office. The 2008 election cost over $5 billion. And a seat in the U.S. Senate can cost upward of $50 million. Where does this money come from? Unfortunately, huge donations come from corporations, labor unions and political action groups. Our elected officials have become dependent on these millions. Politically, young people are frustrated because our concerns arenâÄôt being listened to by politicians indebted to their big campaign funders. We worry about the fact that tuition keeps rising, grants and loans for college cost more and are harder to get, our parents are struggling through the worst recession since the early 1980s, and good jobs are harder and harder to find. But no one seems to be listening. President Barack Obama stated recently, âÄúThe Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.âÄù It may seem ironic or even amusing that Obama is speaking out against special interest money in politics, considering he received large contributions from political action committees and companies such as Goldman Sachs, CitiGroup, TimeWarner and General Electric. Some are upset by this. But the main point is that it highlights the fact that special interest influence is getting out of control. It is clear that we need a solution to the problem, and the recent Supreme Court ruling was no help to the growing movement to restore democracy to the people. No matter what side of the aisle you stand on or your opinion on health care reform, we should all be able to agree that huge corporations and special interests have already been hijacking our democracy and do not need any more help. But we can change things. Democracy Matters at the University of Minnesota is fighting back, and we need your help. Many members of Congress are finally realizing that something has to be done. To get real change, we need bold action. A new system of funding campaigns that allows ordinary Americans to run for office will make politicians accountable to voters, not funders, and will restore faith in our political system. We need a public funding option for candidates similar to the successful systems in Maine, Connecticut, Arizona and other states and cities. No matter what cause or issue you care about, you have a right to be heard. But today these huge corporations are using their millions to speak so loudly that our voices are silenced. We need to join together to declare that democracy is not about corporate political power but about ordinary Americans, including young people. Help us to change the way elections are funded and free our political system from the stranglehold of big money. Contact Democracy Matters at [email protected] and attend weekly Tuesday meetings 4:30 p.m. in Coffman Room 302. Join thousands of students fighting to make a difference. Tyler Stierwalt, Chapter president Democracy Matters