You may have noticed, or at least suspected, that over the years your slice of the American pie has been slowly shrinking. You are not sure how that could happen and, after all, we have all those representatives in Congress and the state legislatures representing our interests. So what is going on?
I have just the resource for you – a fourteen minute interview on WAMC with Gordon Lafer, a University of Oregon professor and author of The One Percent Solution How Corporations are Remaking America One State at a Time. Lafer explains the dynamics of how it works; of how, particularly after Citizens United, corporations have tilted the legislative agendas to embrace corporate interests at the expense of America’s middle class. Note, for example, Lafter’s description of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a dedicated, well-funded, body of conservative legislators and corporate representatives who each year draft a conservative, anti-labor agenda of bills for introduction into state legislatures. See also Jane Mayer’s Dark Money which exposes the web of conservative influence in a broader perspective, covering not only legislatures and think tanks but extending its web into academia and the courts.
Since Citizens United, corporate money has flowed into state elections – to paraphrase Lafer, state representatives are relatively cheap, perhaps $50,000 to $100,000 for a winning campaign. The resulting conservative shift, embracing legislation produced by ALEC and other corporate lobbyists, has resulted in legislation undermining rights of state employees to form unions, reduction of health care benefits, and attacks on other employee rights perceived as onerous by corporate interests. Overall, the state legislative agendas have shifted seismically to the right, shrinking public services – support for education, libraries, the arts, social services, to reduce corporate taxes and expenses. And, because much of what happens in state legislatures occurs below the radar of mainstream media, the public as a general matter is unaware of what is occurring.
So here’s the challenge. If we really want our country back, ridding ourselves of Trump, Ryan, and McConnell is insufficient. We must also insist on true campaign finance reform, limiting campaign expenditures and preferably restricting expenditures to use of public funds to avoid the otherwise inevitable influence peddling. And that won’t happen until the public wakes up and appreciates that they are being systematically taken to the cleaner.