By Frances Moore Lappé
It feels like a break in the clouds.
Although the health care industry spent over $1 million a day lobbying last year and, tellingly, its stocks jumped once health insurance reform passed , the bill promises more options and greater protection to millions.
Clearly, we’ve made progress, but it’s just as clear that we must dig deeper — to our root political problem:
Private money in public politics.
In 2008 a winning House race cost an average of 1.1 million dollars, while a successful Senate bid cost 6.5 million. It’s no surprise that much of that money comes from industries with direct interests in major issues facing Congress—from banking to nuclear power. The Supreme Court in January mightily worsened the threat to democracy in its decision to open the door to unlimited corporate spending to influence campaigns. And even if newly proposed bills blunt the impact of this democracy-deadening decision, we’re still left with a Congress way too dependent on corporate underwriters.
Now’s the moment to go to the root of our democracy’s ill health
The great news is that we can build on the anger of Americans of all political stripes that our democracy is in the grip of private power. A full 90 percent of Americans believe corporations have too much influence in Washington and about 80% of Democrats, Republicans and Independents alikeoppose the recent Supreme Court decision.
So could right and left come together in common purpose, reclaiming our democracy? We might start by reminding the Tea Party folks, for example, that nothing is more essentially American than fighting the collusion of government and monopoly power. It’s a question at the heart of my new book Getting a Grip2, so I asked Invisible Hand to product this 2-minute video of the real story of the Boston Tea Party:
It suggests that there is an answer. A proven way forward that will not be overturned by the Court. The best part is: Bills introducing the approach in congressional races are alreadygaining supportin Congress.
It’s called the Fair Elections Now Act(S. 752and H.R. 1826 ). In the House the effort has 138 co-sponsors, including Republican Mike Castle. These are living, breathing bills we can actively champion with a good chance of passing before November.
It’s a practical solution that’s already working in three states.
Maine and Arizona have had Fair Elections in place for over a decade, already altering the political landscape in powerful ways–allowing everyday people like teachers or waitresses, without corporate backers, to run for office and win. Connecticut’s similar law took effect in 2008.
Fair Elections draw voters and candidates into the process and keep money out and supporting them is just one of the practical things that every citizen can do to help loosen the grip of private influence. So talk to people. Go to a Coffee Party meeting and figure out what you and your neighbors can do right now.
Now that we’ve passed the first step in health insurance reform, why not address the health of our democracy? At the very root, it’s private money in politics that’s making our democracy sick.
Let’s stop treating the symptoms.
Frances Moore Lappé is the author of the just-released Getting a Grip 2: Clarity, Creativity and Courage for the World We Really Want. She is the author of 17 other books, beginning with the three-million copy Diet for a Small Planet. Small Planet Institute Senior Writer Stefan Sirucek contributed editorial support. Find more on living democracy at the Small Planet Institute.
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