In the past week, two things happened: Occupy Wall Street “turned one” (though that seems like bad wording because the movement is mostly dead), and I became aware of the $3 Change For Change movement, which is all about supporting candidates who pursue campaign finance reform through “Money Bombs” — that is, getting as many people to donate $3 as possible to those campaigns. While these two movements might seem different, they are essentially the same.
Last winter I was in a discussion about both the Occupy movement and my favorite lady, Ayn Rand, during a meeting of the Montana State University Political Theory Consortium when one of my friend’s who is an unabashed Ayn Rand lover and libertarian asked, “What is Occupy Wall Street all about? Because no one can actually tell me.” The professor who headed the club was about to answer but saw my excitement at this topic and, stammering a bit because I’m not exceptionally good at speaking off the cuff, I said, “Basically, it’s about reducing the influence the extremely rich have in politics.”
Now, the thing about it is that this isn’t what everyone will say Occupy is all about; many will say it’s actually about reducing the income gap or bringing jobs back to the working class, etc. The Occupy movement was, at its apex, a very confusing jarble of people talking about many different topics with little in common — which is probably why it had so much support at first but so little efficacy in changing policy or even surviving. But everything that was said about Occupy shared one common thread: it was all about people stating they were disenfranchised with the rich. If that doesn’t bespeak wanting to reduce the ability for the wealthy to exert disproportionate influence on politics, whether it be by financing campaigns for elected officials or insulating bureaucracies from the industries they’re supposed to monitor, I don’t know what does.
The amount of money in politics is getting steadily bigger and bigger at a rate much higher than inflation. A recent study by the Sunlight Foundation has found 78% of all outside election spending, or roughly $365 million, for the 2012 presidential elections comes from money that wouldn’t have been allowed prior to the Citizens United case — while roughly $403 million was spent in from outside sources during the 2008 presidential elections by the candidates and all outside sources (excluding the primaries). And we still have roughly 40 days to go until election day.
Who is at the heart of the rise in corporate spending? What has led to those political leviathans we call Super PACs? Why, the mega rich, who have previously had stricter finance laws to contend with, and more restrictions to the messages they can present through NGOs.
Money doesn’t buy elections; that’s not the right way to look at it. But there is a strong correlation between the money raised by candidates and their likelihood of winning an election, regardless of what position they are running for. The Occupy movement, dead or alive, is something I will value, not as an unemployed recent college grad entering the workforce during one of the worst economic periods in American history, but because I think my opinion matters as much as yours in the political decision making process, regardless of who you are. Campaign finance laws, as they stand, do not hurt liberals, nor do they hurt conservatives; they harm anyone who believes in the adage, “One person, one vote.” Anyone who believes that politics should be about more than who can out raise the other is suffering because of the power money has over elections and the power that gives to people with high amounts of disposable income. They hurt everyone who is a member of the 99%. That is the heart of the Occupy movement.
Occupy Wall Street? No, Occupy Washington.
If you believe in campaign finance reform, go to the $3 Change For Change site and donate what you can spare. However, besides trying to change legislation, remember this: if you can’t change the laws you can always reduce the effectiveness of campaign finance. That means you need to make sure to always become educated about the elections taking place and encourage others to do so as well through more than just ads you see. By seeking information not offered up by individual and corporate interests you render yourself immune to this ridiculous funding, and legislative change becomes unnecessary. It is time consuming, yes, but the cost in time is pittance compared to the cost of political autonomy you suffer when you leave your political decision making to powerful actors.