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Reich writes: "Who's buying our democracy? Wall Street financiers, the Koch brothers, and casino magnates Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn. And they're doing much of it in secret. It's a perfect storm: The greatest concentration of wealth in more than a century - courtesy 'trickle-down' economics, Reagan and Bush tax cuts, and the demise of organized labor."

Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)
Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)

The Selling of American Democracy

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

14 July 12


ho’s buying our democracy? Wall Street financiers, the Koch brothers, and casino magnates Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn.

And they’re doing much of it in secret.

It’s a perfect storm:

The greatest concentration of wealth in more than a century — courtesy “trickle-down” economics, Reagan and Bush tax cuts, and the demise of organized labor.

Combined with…

Unlimited political contributions — courtesy of Republican-appointed Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy, in one of the dumbest decisions in Supreme Court history, “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission,” along with lower-court rulings that have expanded it.

Combined with…

Complete secrecy about who’s contributing how much to whom — courtesy of a loophole in the tax laws that allows so-called non-profit “social welfare” organizations to accept the unlimited contributions for hard-hitting political ads.

Put them all together and our democracy is being sold down the drain.

With a more equitable and traditional distribution of wealth, far more Americans would have a fair chance of influencing politics. As the great jurist Louis Brandeis once said, “we can have a democracy or we can have great wealth in the hands of a comparative few, but we cannot have both.”

Alternatively, inequality wouldn’t be as much of a problem if we had strict laws limiting political spending or, at the very least, disclosing who was contributing what.

But we have an almost unprecedented concentration of wealth and unlimited political spending and secrecy.

I’m not letting Democrats off the hook. Democratic candidates are still too dependent on Wall Street casino moguls and real casino magnates (Steve Wynn has been a major contributor to Harry Reid, for example). George Soros and a few others have poured big bucks into Democratic coffers. So have a handful of trade unions.

But make no mistake. Compared to what the GOP is doing this year, Democrats are conducting a high-school bake sale. The mega-selling of American democracy is a Republican invention, and Romney and the GOP are its major beneficiaries.

And the losers aren’t just Democrats. They’re the American people.

You need to make a ruckus. Don’t fall into the seductive trap of cynicism. That’s what the sellers of American democracy are counting on. If you give up on our system of government, they win everything.

This coming Monday, for example, the Senate has scheduled a cloture vote on the DISCLOSE ACT, which would at least require that outfits like the Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s “Crossroads GPS” disclose who’s contributing what. Contact your senators, and have your friends and relatives in other states — especially those with Republican senators (who have been united in their opposition to disclosure) — contact theirs. If the DISCLOSE ACT is voted down, hold accountable those senators (and, when and if it gets to the House, those House members) who are selling out our democracy for the sake of their own personal ambitions.

Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including "Locked in the Cabinet," "Reason," "Supercapitalism," "Aftershock," and his latest e-book, "Beyond Outrage." His 'Marketplace' commentaries can be found on and iTunes. your social media marketing partner


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+60 # Barbara K 2012-07-14 09:04
Thanks, Mr. Reisch, for pointing out that we ALL lose. Now is the time for us to fight for our democracy and liberty like never before. The wealthy don't care for any of us, they are after what they want and it is not good for the citizens of this country. We need to join forces and fight with all our might, and NEVER vote Republican at any level, as the wealthy are using them to take over the country.

Don't vote Republican, our very rights and existence are at risk like never before.
+9 # wantrealdemocracy 2012-07-14 11:36
Don't vote Republican or Democrat! Our very rights and existence are at risk like never before---not to mention the damage being done to our mother the EARTH! They talk about choosing the 'lesser evil', in that is the understanding that BOTH ARE EVIL! We must vote for what we want. Those trillions of dollars being spent to dull your mind must be seen as what they are -- PROPAGANDA! There is no truth in those endless TV ads and the conversations on the major media. Turn off that damn TV and get out and talk to people. We must change this government and both the Dims and the Repukes like it just fine as it is. Break yourself away from these corrupt political parties and vote independently. If you saw it on TV is is a LIE! Go join Occupy!
+13 # Ralph Averill 2012-07-14 15:23
Vote for "independently" for whom? Or what?
Breathless, storm-the-basti lle rhetoric sounds good, but it's just empty words that lead nowhere.
Forget the White House.
The best thing you can do is put your congressional candidates' feet to the fire on the issues that matter to you, and support the one you like. Can't find one you like, make one. A lot of work? You bet. Freedom ain't free.
It's all about Congress in 2012!
+10 # doneasley 2012-07-14 23:50
Quoting Barbara K:
... The wealthy don't care... Don't vote Republican, our very rights and existence are at risk...

The "Culture of Corruption" continues from the Nixon (Watergate) era and his Southern Strategy, which brought the racist southern policies under the GOP umbrella. It continued with the Reagan (Iran-Contra) administration, and the introduction of "Trickle Down Economics". Daddy Bush called it "Voodoo Economics" as he pardoned most of the Iran-Contra conspirators (of which he was one), and presided over a Savings & Loan scandal of his own. The Silverado S&L, with NEIL BUSH as director, was the largest to go belly-up to the tune of $1.6 Billion. The $1.4 TRILLION theft was, at that time, the largest in American history, and the Bushes (including Daddy) were smack dab in the middle. The problems started as a result of deregulation during the Reagan/Bush administration and were hidden until after Bush's election in 1988. Jeb wasn't clean either, defaulting on a $4.5 Million loan from Broward S&L, which also went belly-up. The only Bush brother - yep there's another - who seemed to have clean hands was Marvin.

The Bush/Cheney administration was Reaganomics on steroids, including the Tom DeLay conspiracies with Jack Abramoff as his bag man. A Romney administration promises to completely empty the till, stripping the poor and middle class, not only of money, but of all dignity and rights.
+31 # RobinMcM 2012-07-14 09:51
Thank you for your cool-headed analysis, Dr. Reich. When its internal conflicts reach a certain point, a country becomes vulnerable to outside attack. If the 99% are unable to mobilize and institute meaningful change, I'm beginning to fear that a far more violent period is in our future. Benjamin Franklin was right - if we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.
+21 # jlohman 2012-07-14 10:12
I'm 74 and hope it doesn't happen until I'm gone, but I fear for my kids and their's. But I get mad as hell that we allow our politicians to take cash bribes and give away taxpayer assets in return. Only a 100% turnover in November will get us on the road to fixing it. But we have Lefties and Righties, neither of which feel their party is at fault, when it is both.
+24 # tswhiskers 2012-07-14 09:59
The most frightening thing I see is the increasing anti-democratic nature of Republican governing styles and the fact that except for concern about Citizens United, the media seem very unconcerned about it. Does anyone know that in Michigan the governor can appoint one person to take over any economically troubled municipalities he sees fit and that person becomes virtual dictator over it; the citizens of that town or city have no rights whatever. Unless you watch Rachel Maddow, you probably don't. Does anyone know that Republicans are trying to get rid of legalized birth control, not to mention abortion? Fortunately, thanks to Afro-Americans, the media has been forced to cover Rep. states' determination disenfranchise likely Democratic voters. People still talk about Communism, but I think the more realistic threat from the far right is a benevolent fascism: a plutocracy run for money, by money and give the hoi polloi enough amusements to keep them poor but happy (remember your Roman history, anyone?) It's certain to me that the more talk I hear of American liberty and the Constitution, the less I'll get of it in the end. It was Jefferson who said to the effect that a little revolution can be good for the soul.
+14 # indian weaver 2012-07-14 10:31
Yes, and forget a little revolution, because it is a big revolution that is required to take out the criminals - many of our government actors. Remember, Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Paul Revere, all the actors in our revolution would have been called terrorists today, and these OUR terrorists, those patriots very much alive and active among us, are who maintains and gives us freedom - witness Ben Franklin et. al. NOT our government anymore. It's time to remember how we got here orignally, and that "time has come today" ... (The Chambers Brothers famous song).
+14 # Regina 2012-07-14 11:31
The real culprit is the stranglehold by TV stations -- using publicly owned channels -- on advertising costs. It takes a ton of money for candidates to reach the public. That also drives the snarling tone of ads, and the zinging slogans that have no connection to facts but get implanted in listeners' minds, aided by the Faux drumbeat. The Citizens United fiat is now generating a far worse disparity. Yes, I watch Rachel Maddow, and know of the Republican Governors' Association's fascist antics, including Michigan, Wisconsin, and now Pennsylvania.
+3 # Bigfella 2012-07-15 20:35
That's our ex Rupert you have our best wishes in sending him to Gittmo for treatment of his terrorist actions against the people of this world.
+19 # ruttaro 2012-07-14 10:00
Dr, Reich, you are not only hitting the nail on the head but absolutely correct in pointing out what we that people need to do: hold those who act against our collective interests accountable. We already have the evidence that trickle down does not work. Two questions: If it works then why have middle class wages basically stagnated in the last 30 years? How can it work if capital is free to move anywhere in the world? If there ever was a time when our democracy was in peril it is now. The only way to rescue it from the plutocrats and oligarchs is to remove money from politics. That trims their power substantially. Eliminating money from politics makes votes the coin of the realm, as they should be in a democracy. Removing money from politics gives voice to the people and makes government "for the people" possible. We should do this starting with the removal from office any Senator or Representative who votes to water down regulatory efforts controlling Wall Street banks such as Dodd-Frank. Indeed, we should demand stronger actions such as reinstate the Glass-Stegall Act. Then demand they support a constitutional amendment making all public elections publicly funded, We should exercise our ownership of the airwaves by establishing rules for debates and policy discussions, And to all those Republicans and Tea Party faithful who argue that this is socialism, let's educate them about our rights and the responsibilitie s of citizenship.
+3 # Virginia 2012-07-14 17:17
Well, you better educate them in Chinese. This country of ours with corrupt politicians fraught with insider trading, sweetheart deals and bankster slush funds has literally sold us to China. Cities and towns are bankrupting across America, not because of union benefits but because politicians made VERY BAD investments in unregulated securities and derivatives to the LOSS of many, many TRILLION$.

Not only do the banksters need to go to jail - pension fund managers, their agents and government officials and politicians from governors to US Senators and Congressional Representatives need to be fined, fired and expelled. THEY DID NOT DO THEIR JOBS. They committed acts against the citizens of the United States. It's time to recognize the thieves and stop wagging the dog.
+2 # BradFromSalem 2012-07-16 09:57

The whole China thing is a fraud. There are indeed problems with the way China does business, but most of them are matched by the US. Question, is China's currency undervalued or is ours overvalued?

The Chinese are being used by the Fascist Right as cover for us to blame while they steal all our wealth. The real crime is the process of diminishing the tax burden on the rich so they (NOT China) can use that money to lend to the US. This increases our deficit and they make a profit. China is not about to take us over, American Fascists have co-opted the Tea Party and through them the Republican Party and if Romney is elected, their takeover short of a bloody revolution, will be complete.

Only three things can stop it. First vote for only Progressive Democrats at all levels of government and second if the Democrat is not a Progressive, vote for whoever will prevent a Republican victory.
+13 # reiverpacific 2012-07-14 10:17
This subject is almost redundant on RSN: it's constantly repeated and similarly worded for the most part by various authors from Hedges to Hightower to Reich and many others. Most RSN supporters know these facts and even their reasoning and details to be true rather well (apart from the small batch of reactionary trollers that are tolerated hereon); far more than the "average" Owner-Media, Faux "news"-numbed and embittered consumer-voters.
It would be much more pertinent if the networks -including PBS- carried such articles in prominent pages to give these every-four-year -activists some pause for thought for a change, instead of having them rooted to their fick'rin' screen content-free stuffing between big-budget advertising!
Think about it!
+7 # tedrey 2012-07-14 12:03
Whenever you see a strong piece here which your media haven't covered, give it to them, ask why they haven't covered it, demand (but sweetly, politely,) that they do cover it. Progresive positions are woefully undercovered, and we should keep pushing them 'centerwards"!
+2 # reiverpacific 2012-07-15 10:54
Quoting tedrey:
Whenever you see a strong piece here which your media haven't covered, give it to them, ask why they haven't covered it, demand (but sweetly, politely,) that they do cover it. Progresive positions are woefully undercovered, and we should keep pushing them 'centerwards"!

Good thought. Actually, the media I associate (KBOO in Portland OR and KMUN Astoria, OR, where I did my radio training) are already as deeply into this as RSN, sometimes from the same sources but I'll try the local OPB (PBS) station and the network outlets, although I never "hearken unto them" much less watch the tripe they purvey visually.
Thanks for the suggestion.
+4 # dick 2012-07-14 10:28
DEMOCRAT Bill Clinton & his Wall St. bosses passed Glass-Steagall, setting our democracy aflame. Where was Bob then? Inequality has boomed under Obama faster than under GOPers. DEMOCRAT Obama is Actively Obstructing the prosecution of Wall St. criminals, even stymying state level efforts. This is an IMPEACHABLE atrocity. WHY won't the likes of Reich, whom I admire, publicly call Barry out on this. Silence is enabling. Cowardice is co-conspiracy. INDICT Wall St. CRIMINALS now!
+12 # tedrey 2012-07-14 12:07
Republicans, including Romney, are F grade, (showing my age.) Obama is C-minus. You may not believe in elections, but every real progressive elected, from dog-catcher up, helps us. Hit the Republicans this fall as hard as you can, hopefully they'll self-destruct, and then turn and hit Obama.
+7 # Vardoz 2012-07-14 10:36
The bottom line with no voters protections, Citizens United and the TPP we basically have no government any more but they will still squeeze every last tax dollar out us as we are increasingly impoverished and as they cut services, and entitlementts. They are destroy our nation and right now we better face the reality that things will not get better for the 99%. It's a matter of live free or die.
+11 # giraffee2012 2012-07-14 10:55
Clinton was then, Obama is now. The article starts out with "secrecy" issues - and the last few days we've seen Mitty state he'll keep his tax records secret - because "either he lied on his taxes after 1999 or he lied to the American people" -

Now it is clear to me that IF we elect the "top-down" (i.e. trickle overseas) tax deal offered by Romney - then we've voting for the big $$ to be our dictators because NONE of us (99ers) will be in that tax bracket to achieve even LESS taxes (more HOLES).

Call your local and fed congressionials and governors - and VOTE out the TOP/DOWN funded officials.

i.e. VOTE DEM and VOTE President Obama

AND get all you can find who will vote like you -- to the polls (yes, that may mean you take time from your precious off-work time to work to save our Democracy and freedoms)

Can you imagine being under the dictatorship of big $$$ led by Mitty == i.e. worse than having to ride on top of a car for a long trip (in sickness or in health)

+11 # Regina 2012-07-14 11:37
The dictatorship will not be "led" by Mitty -- he's just a stooge for the real dictators, Rove et al., aided and abetted by Republican governors who are clearly acting in lock-step for state legislation. It's a conspiracy threatening the very existence of the United States of America, to whom they loudly "pledge allegaince" as they quietly wield their axes.
+6 # Saberoff 2012-07-14 11:05
GREAT ARTICLE: Plainly spoken.

Surely we, the citizens of the United States, see that the country is lost. We simply don't care.

How many will, truly, call Congress?

(And besides, what does Congress care? Could it be that they don't already know about the country going to hell? That we have to tell them of it?)
+10 # Vardoz 2012-07-14 11:25
Not we, those who will benefit the most from disenfranchisin g the 99% are the ones who don't care. The ones swimming in wealth are the ones who don't care. It's just a matter of time before the American people really get it. Perhaps it will take a red congress and senate and Romney! A terrifying prospect. People here are afraid to fight. The are afraid to get pepper sprayed and beaten. Wouldn't you be afraid? But there comes a time, as it did in the civil rights movement, when fire hoses and beatings and murders by police didn't stop the people because they were abused too much. We see what's happening in Syria. Wide spread slaughter, but people are not giving up. People here won't start to fight until the abuse has reached critical mass and they feel they have nothing to lose because things have gotten so bad. This is why the police have zero tolerance, they want to stave off protesters right from the start. So it's a matter of conviction and courage and if one thinks that protesting and fight for a better life and nation is worth it.
+11 # Peace Anonymous 2012-07-14 11:41
If only the people could see the truth about corporate America. You get a much clearer picture when you understand the history of Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Chile and much of the Middle East. When you see and understand how corporate America controlled and destroyed those countries, even those that were democracies, can you clearly see how they are playing the same game here, now, at home.
And the only thing that can stop them is you. In fact you are the only thing that can stop them.
+4 # reiverpacific 2012-07-15 11:12
Quoting Peace Anonymous:
If only the people could see the truth about corporate America. You get a much clearer picture when you understand the history of Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Chile and much of the Middle East. When you see and understand how corporate America controlled and destroyed those countries, even those that were democracies, can you clearly see how they are playing the same game here, now, at home.
And the only thing that can stop them is you. In fact you are the only thing that can stop them.

Thankfully the US is experiencing blowback in utterly losing control of most nations south of the Border except for the continuing failed ones like Mexico, Honduras, and Colombia.
I wonder if they had anything to do with the recent coup in Paraguay, as the Bush die-nasty, using Dimwit's daughter Jenna to cover the transactions on an alleged UNICEF "mission", has acquired many thousands of hectares of land there to add to county's record in hosting and sheltering their own kind, the former Nazi war criminals formerly sheltered there. The country is rapidly being isolated by it's more progressive neighbors and other Latin nations.
For the story:
But as you note, the damage since the Jacopo Arbenz coup in Guatemala, staged by the CIA and the appalling Dulles Bro's in 1954 on behalf on United Fruit (Now Chiquita) has been truly horrendous.
+1 # Bigfella 2012-07-15 20:44
Wonder why Mexico, Honduras and Colombia are in the state they are in? Wouldn't have anything to do with the CIA would it and their money raising for black ops would it?
Corperate Americia is trying to install this types of Governing on the USA WAKE UP USA!
+7 # jwb110 2012-07-14 11:49
To take a page from the early manipulation of the GOP: "If they have nothing to hide then why don't they reveal this?".
+4 # Peacedragon 2012-07-14 11:56
If the schools would do their job and teach the students to think the amount of money spent on a political cmpaign would eventualy mean nothing.
+8 # Regina 2012-07-14 14:15
That's exactly why the rabid right is working so hard, in so many states, to destroy what's left of education. They pass laws to outlaw the teaching of critical thinking; to require counter-argumen ts for evolution; to reserve school time for religious instruction; to teach sex ed only for abstention; etc etc etc. And the trash out of Texas will kill textbooks because they're such a big market. No, schools are directed to do the crackpots' job, not the schools' job.
+13 # fhunter 2012-07-14 11:59
Joseph Goebbels is laughing in his grave. What his PROPAGANDA was not able to accomplish, the Republican PROPAGANDA can and perhaps will, namely the destruction of American Democracy.
+4 # Realist1948 2012-07-14 12:10
“In a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy.”

Matt Taibbi, "Griftopia": Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America
+4 # John Steinsvold 2012-07-14 12:21
An Alternative to Capitalism (if the people knew about it, they would demand it)

Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: "There is no alternative". She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: "Home of the Brave?" which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

John Steinsvold

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."~ Albert Einstein
+8 # geraldom 2012-07-14 12:31
When are people finally going to wake up in this country & stop using the word democracy in the very same sentence they use the words "the United States?"

We no longer have a democracy. It's gone! It's dead & buried! Allow me to give you a short list as to why this is the case:

o The federal court system, mostly thanks to GWB with the help of the Dems in placing well over 300 of GWB's ideological/pol itical/corrupt judges onto the fed bench with lifetime appointments all, has become completely & permanently corrupted.

o Since the Dems allowed HAVA to pass & become law, now all 50 states are legally required to use corrupt & fraudulent e-voting machines, most of them of the paperless type, to determine winners & losers in virtual all elections that take place in this country, at the fed, state, & local levels. No one really knows how their vote is being tabulated internally in the machine's memory. It appears that there was some hanky panky with the machines in the Wisconsin recall vote.

o Law enforcement at all levels has become completely militarized, not to mention the state national guards, & the U.S. military itself. If people were to rise up in this country as they have done in Syria, don't think that what's happening there will not happen here.

o As happened to Paul Wellstone in Oct of 2002, it is not beneath our govt to assassinate Americans who they feel is a threat to the current establishment of power.
+3 # Saberoff 2012-07-14 20:20
Thanks, Harold. Well stated.
+3 # geraldom 2012-07-14 21:47
It looks like Governor Rick Scott won his purge battle thanks to a Republican-appo inted judge in Tallahassee, Florida:

Obama and the Democrats are utter fools if they think that they are going to win cases in federal court that will hurt the Republican cause. It appears that the Voting Rights Act is going the way of the Do-Do bird and our Constitution.
+8 # vdelgoriosr 2012-07-14 13:11
Although, it was during the Clinton Admistration that repealed Glass Steagall it was a Republican majority that repealed it and would have had the 2/3 rd to over ride a presidential veto. There is no doubt that the republican party has gone extreme in support of wealth and not the people they should represent. Overall there are more democrates who serve the people. The tea party who has hijaked the republican party must be defeated this novemeber or we will pay dearly for our complacencies, get out the vote and vote democrats into office and give Obama a majority in both houses so that our government can once again govern.
-1 # Craig Purcell 2012-07-14 13:30
Why have folks dropped out? Is it Nobel Peace Priiz winner Obama's drone wars or Mitts flippin' position on everything?
+2 # Bigfella 2012-07-15 20:48
That would be because they see no hope with only a 2 party dictator ship of the right and the extreme right. Best practice your goose step.
+4 # MindDoc 2012-07-14 14:24
Short, (not so) sweet, and to the point! Thanks again, Matt Taibbi.

A perfect storm indeed, and the captain and crew are navigating the ship to a hidden destination, and secretively at that.

Again, we need to have eyes wide open, avert disaster *now*, and then "repeal and replace" government by and for the 1%.

We need to be vocal, to organize, vote, and then (after *this* perfect storm) review and revise our rules of the sea and share a map which helps avoid such "perfect storms" and SCOTUS-legalize d corruption and influence. WE THE PEOPLE must wake up and shake off the narcotics of propaganda, spin, and complacency. Our ship has many forces intent on sinking it, with golden lifeboats for the owners and their friends in high places.
+4 # Kathymoi 2012-07-14 14:26
They've got us tied up in such a tight hold. Disclosing is necessary, but not sufficient. It's taking up our time and efforts and won't deliver what is needed. This is all over the place. What is needed is limits, transparency, accountability and a representationa l democracy instead of a money-based government in which favortism goes to the wealthiest concerned party.
+3 # Willman 2012-07-14 21:26
They don't want to disclose GMO's or the big money donors or should I say "johns"
The repugs would rather treat the non vips like mushrooms. Feed em manure and keep them in the dark.
+3 # thehodges1 2012-07-15 17:32
Americans votes against their best interest and feel that there isn't anything they can do about it. Our education system is broken and where it isn't broken the people are brain washed.
How can these people get away with this and how can we fix it?

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