After a rally in front of City Hall, an enthusiastic crowd moved inside and completely filled the City Council’s chambers. Following a brief introductory period, the Council heard testimony from Jeff Stookey, representing Move to Amend, and Donna Noonan, who both urged the council to officially reject the concept of corporate personhood in its entirety, not just in the case of campaign expenditures. Noonan informed the Council that “we have your back” should they decide to press the envelope and insert stronger language into an amended resolution. Throughout the testimony, the crowd held up green signs calling for a stronger resolution to be submitted to Portland citizens for a vote. In an apt reflection of the citizenry’s strong feelings about reclaiming its government, people showed up in large numbers in support of these important reforms.
And while getting Congress to adopt some form of a declaration against unlimited corporate campaign spending and in support of a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the personhood of corporations (and all the absurd rights that attend it) would undoubtedly be major steps in the battle to regain our republic, they are not enough. Though Citizens United catapulted campaign finance into the national spotlight, it is but one of many chronic problems we must address. For those familiar with Greek mythology, we face a multi-headed hydra of undue influence over government. Lopping off one head will simply not suffice to defeat the beast. In my estimation, a complete revocation of the human rights of corporations and reform of our elections is only the first half of the battle.
The second of the dual evils of corporate-government collusion is the so-called revolving door of government, which includes direct lobbying and the soft parachuting of former government officials into the industries they were supposed to be regulating. Over time a system has evolved in which legislators and staffers simply insert lobbyist-written operative and legally significant language into enormous bills where only interested parties know where to find it. Sometimes lobbyists just write the entire bills and send the drafts to Congress. These giant bills are rushed through Congress and rarely do any legislators read them; even if they had the desire, there’s simply not enough time to read everything. For their acquiescence in this process, legislators and their staffers are rewarded with very high paying private-sector positions in the industries benefitting most from the legislative boost. Amazingly, this is all legal as Congress gets to regulate itself on these matters.
In one particularly sickening display, senior regulators at the SEC who are supposed to investigate and regulate financial institutions, have routinely stopped investigations, dropped cases against, or pushed for weak settlements with the financial behemoths that destroyed our economy, only to immediately accept positions with those same banks or the law firms that represent them. This type of corruption is so efficient, it would not be wholly inappropriate to call it industrial. And, these practices have been evolving so long without any oversight or effective public outrage that this has become the norm throughout the executive and legislative branches. The collusion spans every industry; each having its go-to regulators and legislators.
In such a system, the loyalties of our government officials do not belong to the people. What should be public service in national government has become one big get rich quick scheme where words like “public interest” become almost meaningless. True public servants are so isolated in this system as to be completely ineffective. Even a single term in Congress, combined with the right lobbyist connections, can turn into a fortune. There is little incentive for anyone involved to protect the interests of the public, which are often in conflict with those of industry. Those with enough moral character to strongly oppose the revolving door and insist upon public interested governance, like former Senator Russ Feingold, stand to face a huge wave of moneyed opposition in a bid for re-election. Since the better-funded candidates win elections upwards of 90% of the time, this is a huge problem. Once one understands the logic of this system, it is easy to see why the public interest cannot possibly compete against corporate profits.
So, let’s be cognizant of the two related, but qualitatively different evils that plague our system. It is one thing to be able to obtain some favors from your legislator with the promise of campaign cash. It is quite another to have a multi-million dollar salary waiting for him or her upon departure from the legislature. We need to fix both problems at the same time if we are to reform our system.
Right now, we have a window in which to press for these reforms. Mayor Adams has given us a proposal to work with. Let’s press the City Council to include a repudiation of both corporate personhood and revolving door politics. And on Thursday, Jan. 12, at 2 PM, when the next public comment period opens up, let’s pack the chambers again, and this time, accompany our official message with a raucous, chanting crowd outside on the steps of City Hall.
With Occupy Congress coming up on Jan. 17 and Occupy the Courts on Jan. 20 – the anniversary of the Citizens United decision –, those of us heading to Washington D.C. would love to have a finished resolution of sufficient force and scope to deliver to our federal government on behalf of the City of Portland. We can join Los Angeles and New York in rejecting corporate personhood and do them one better by pointing out the other half of the problem, the god-damned revolving door.
Article IV, section 4 of our Constitution requires that the United States provide a republican form of government for its citizens. No one really knows what that means, but we can be confident that it doesn’t mean a system where legalized bribery in the form of revolving door politics and unlimited campaign funding place the loyalties of our officials in the pockets of the highest bidders; invariably, the 1%. Let’s seize the moment and wrest our government from the grips of the radical elements that have been in control for far too long.
To view the current version of the City’s resolution, please visit: http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=377616