Money in Politics: Politicians For Hire

Part of our series of articles exploring the influence of corporate money over our political system.

What do protesting teachers in Wisconsin, families facing foreclosure, and community leaders fighting state budget cuts have in common?

Well, as the chant now heard ‘round the country goes: “We Are One.” And we are watching to see which lawmakers and policymakers are siding with us – and which are siding with the big banks and other corporations.

It’s not hard to tell where Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker comes down. Earlier this week, when Walker raced to pick up the phone for industrialist and conservative moneyman “David Koch” – really a blog editor – he made his position pretty clear. Walker spent twenty minutes chatting with the billionaire, although he wasn’t taking calls from members of the state senate’s Democratic caucus, and he certainly wasn’t listening to the thousands of protesters filling the halls of the capitol to protect workers’ right to bargain. How did the Governor justify such incredible access to an out-of-state donor? By referring to Koch, in an interview with Fox, as “one of our employers here in the state of Wisconsin.”

Combine the move to crush unions with hair-trigger responsiveness to billionaire “employers,” and, as many have argued from the start, it’s pretty clear that this conflict isn’t about the technicalities of balancing the state budget. It has a lot more to with power, justice, and equity, including determining who gets to reap the benefits of our economy and who’s expected to sacrifice.

Despite media coverage focusing on unions and budgets, what people all around the country realize, as evidenced by the “Solidarity with Wisconsin” rallies that took place in all fifty states this past weekend, is that this is not simply a fight between state governments and employees. It is a fight between working American people and the corporate giants who are trying to hijack the country with the help of the politicians they help put into office.

Which takes us to an equally troubling report from earlier this month: Matt Taibbi’s detailing of the failure of federal prosecutors and regulators to take action against Wall Street bankers – seemingly because said prosecutors and regulators hope to someday work for Wall Street banks. (“Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?,” Rolling Stone, February 16, 2011).

So, it’s not just campaign cash that’s a problem. The revolving door is also a problem, providing a powerful incentive against holding banks accountable for crashing our economy.

Meanwhile, millions continue to face foreclosure, and the big banks are stealing people’s homes from under them and improperly denying mortgage relief to qualified applicants, all to boost their bottom line. The Attorneys General from the fifty states are investigating the banks for abuses in the foreclosure process, while at least one federal agency (the Office of the Comptroller of Currency) apparently is pushing the AGs to reach a “modest settlement” with the banks.

Just as workers in Wisconsin have set a bottom line with their state lawmakers – making it clear that elected officials need to put people over corporations – homeowners are setting a bottom line when it comes to fixing the housing market mess.

Earlier this year, the Alliance for a Justice Society and the PICO National Network carried this message to senior Treasury Department officials, urging them to hold banks accountable for the mess the banks created. (The feds can do this by, among other things, requiring mandatory loan modifications – not just when banks feel like it, charging homeowners the real value of their homes, and offering financial restitution to homeowners who lost their houses through bank fraud. And, of course, the feds should prosecute bankers who committed crimes while sinking our economy and pushing people out of their homes.)

There’s still time for Treasury to demonstrate that their loyalty to the public is more powerful than the suck of the corporate revolving door. But they’d better act fast. Events in Wisconsin have inspired many people around the country – look at the “We Are One” rallies in all fifty states. Those people will want to know, with regard to Treasury officials as much as with Scott Walker: When it comes to corporations or people, which side are you on?

Oscar Winner Calls Out Wall Street During Acceptance Speech

A bright spot from last night’s long Academy Awards Show:

“Forgive me,” said director Scott Ferguson, as he accepted his Oscar for the film Inside Job, which exposes our economic crisis as a crime perpetrated by a greedy few upon the working class, “I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.”

Montanans Demonstrate Unity Against State Budget Cuts

Over 400 Montanans from across the state, all the way from Ashland to Missoula, converged on the State Capitol in Helena on Monday, February 21, for the first annual Citizens Day at the Capitol, hosted by Alliance for a Just Society affiliate the Montana Organizing Project.

Since the state legislative session began in January, Montana lawmakers have been slashing jobs and funding for public services even though the Governor’s budget clearly shows that there is no sound  financial reason for doing so. Members from Native tribes, Indian People’s Action, unions, churches and community groups came together as one to demand that critical services stay completely funded, that the state tax system be restructured and made more equitable, and that federal health care reform be properly implemented, ensuring that all Montanans have a safe and secure future.

All day long, the halls of the capitol building bustled with working people from all four corners of the state who came to tell  their stories of how cuts to health care, education, and public safety programs would adversely affect their families and communities. They presented legislators with Protecting Montana’s Future, a book filed with the stories of ordinary Montanans which amplifies the voices of small business owners, Native Americans, students, public servants, and senior citizens throughout the state and shows the need for a healthy public infrastructure.

Citizens Day culminated in a mass rally on the snowy capitol steps with members of the Montana Education Association and Montana Federation of Teachers. The crowd of over 400 declared their support for a new way forward in Montana, one that involves “reversing the cuts and restoring the future.” Moving testimony from firefighters, faith community, small business owners, progressive legislators, veterans groups, and teachers riled up the crowd, many of whom held signs proclaiming why they were there and expressing solidarity with the workers and protesting at the capitol in Wisconsin.

The Capitol truly belonged to the citizens of Montana on Monday, and they all walked away with the pledge to keep coming back until their legislators get the message.

Building the Native Movement: Training and Empowerment in Billings, Montana

From defending treaty obligations such as water rights and access to basic health care, to fighting institutional racism in schools and state legislation, to fighting the effects of colonialism in our food systems that are literally killing Indian people, there is no shortage of work to be done in Indian Country.

Across Indian Country, Native people are dealing with amagnitude of issues that affect day-to-day life. While it may be easy to find social service programs that slow the weeping wounds of daily life, one is pressed to find community organizing efforts that address the systemic change that is so desperately needed in these communities. Read more

Community Health Care Clinics Under Attack

Community clinics are an indispensable component of the health care infrastructure in the United States. They are widely regarded as a cost-effective way to provide basic care, saving the health care system billions of dollars every year. Clinics serve over 20 million people in America, and one out of three people in poverty rely on them for their medical needs. Community clinics are also critical for access to care for immigrants, many of whom have been shut out of health insurance coverage post-reform. Read more

Money in Politics: The Best Tax Break Half a Million Dollars Can Buy

The first in a series of articles exploring the influence of corporate money over our political system.

When Microsoft filed pay disclosures with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year, it reported a $670,000 bonus for company CEO Steve Ballmer. But the company didn’t mention how Ballmer spent the bulk of that check – on a $425,000 campaign contribution to oppose a state income tax for the very wealthy. Read more

Washington CAN! and Allies Testify Against Bill Targeting Undocumented Immigrants

On Thursday, February 3, the Washington State Legislature Transportation Committee held a public hearing on SB 5407, a bill that would take away the ability of undocumented, tax-paying immigrants to obtain Washington state driver licenses. The bill would make people provide a social security number or proof that they are in the US legally to get a a license. At the public hearing, several organizations including Washington CAN!, OneAmerica, El Comite, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, churches and faith groups, expressed their concerns about the bill.  Read more

Conservative Judicial Activism Must Strengthen Health Care Implementation

On Monday, January 31st, a second federal court ruled against the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A Florida judge opined that the individual responsibility provision was unconstitutional and therefore made the entire Act invalid. The White House and reform supporters were quick to point out that two other courts and numerous judicial scholars hold a contrary opinion. Nevertheless, the ruling, even if eventually reversed, will give added hope to the Tea Baggers and other opponents of reform. Health care advocates must continue to stand by the ACA because it is the law of the land. Read more