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What’s At Stake When Billionaires Try to Buy Our Democracy

The shameless spectacle of billionaires drowning the airwaves should not numb us to the consequences of what is at stake if the super rich succeed in buying our elections.

While most of the national focus is on the Presidential race and some high profile Senate elections, the less profiled California ballot measures provide a disturbing portrait of what of a clearly broken system. 

California Propositions 32 and 33 in particular and the onslaught of secretive political action committees that hide the names of their rich sponsors, are just the latest example of the parade of billionaires who seem to think our votes are just another entitlement of their wealth.

Behind the torrent of spending is a dangerous agenda, for the future of our democracy and the last remaining shred of belief that everyone has an equal voice in our political system, but also for our health and living standards.

Their goal in California – which they see as a model for their national agenda – is removing all obstacles in public oversight to the pursuit of higher profit for the corporations they lead and greater wealth for the lavish lifestyles they enjoy. 

That means silencing opposition to their program, eliminating regulations that protect public health, and putting in office candidates who will promote their legislative wish list.


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What happens if they have a free pass?

  • Reduced restrictions on pesticide use in the fields and looser standards for groundwater contaminants and refinery air emissions resulting in more outbreaks of e-coli in our food, increased hazardous waste in drinking water that sicken our children, and higher incidents of asthma and other pulmonary disease due to air pollution.
  • Fewer limits on spiraling health insurance premiums, hospital charges, and pharmaceutical prices, severely reduced scrutiny of unsafe hospitals and nursing homes practices, and sharp cuts in what patient care needs insurers must cover.
  • Relaxed workplace safety rules leading to more dangerous accidents resulting in death and permanent injuries, and reversal of standards workers have fought to achieve, including sick leave, overtime pay, guaranteed meal and rest breaks, health benefits, pensions, and protection from wage theft by unscrupulous employers.
  • Higher gas, utility, and cable prices, fewer protections for families devastated by wildfires or floods, and more dangerous, untested products in the stores.
  • An open door to privatization or further underfunding of basic public services we all count on, including schools, police and fire protection, libraries, and street and other infrastructure repairs.

Prop. 32 donors, who incredulously claim they want to “stop special interest” domination of elections, is a veritable rogues’ gallery lineup of this phenomenon. Among them:

  • The far right Iowa-based American Future Fund, a major donor to Prop. 32, backed by big oil and energy corporations, with known links to the notorious Koch brothers and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads. In addition to financing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and similar conservative candidates across the country, the Koch brothers are noted for opposing any restrictions on the oil and gas industry and claiming climate science is false while attacking efforts to slow the adverse effects of climate change. 
  • B. Wayne Hughes, Jr., billionaire board member of the secretive American Action Network which campaigns regularly against what it calls “regulatory burdens” and corporate taxes.   Hughes is also a major donor to Rove’s Crossroads who once said “derelicts on welfare” check themselves into hospitals because they are “bored” and “want feeding.”
  • Howard Ahmanson, banking heir and backer of the anti-gay Prop. 8 in California.
  • Hotel magnate William Oberndorf, major proponent of private, for-profit schools. 
  • Americans for Responsible Leadership, an Arizona-based anti-tax, anti-union group that hides its donors and is led by a rightwing extremist Robert Graham, who calls labor unions "the parasite that is killing our jobs." 
  • Thomas Siebel, technology billionaire who has hosted fundraisers for Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin.
  • Charles Munger, Jr., scion of Charles Munger Sr. vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and one of America’s richest men, and the single largest donor to the Yes on 32/No on 30 effort. Together with his sister Molly, prime sponsor of Prop. 38, the younger Mungers have already spent more than $54 million in this election alone.

Then there is George Joseph, architect of Prop. 33, a deceptive bid to raise auto insurance rates. Joseph is the billionaire founder of Mercury Insurance.

As the Los Angeles Times noted, Joseph “has personally contributed 99.5% of the $16.2 million raised by Proposition 33's official sponsor, the American Agents Alliance, a trade group of independent insurance agents and brokers.” 

Multiply these by hundreds of the super rich and their super secret political committees with hidden donors and the threat to the core of our democracy and the safeguards and the way of life for those not among the 1 percent comes into focus.

This election let’s send a message that we had an uprising in this nation once to send a message that our country did not belong to an aristocracy, and we will not accept their corrupted vision of our republic.

RoseAnn DeMoro

RoseAnn DeMoro is a labor leader and organizer for social change. She is former executive director of National Nurses United and former national vice president of the AFL-CIO. In addition to serving as board member of Consumer Watchdog, she is currently spending all of her time telling everyone she knows, and even more people that she does not know, that Bernie Sanders should run for president in 2020. Follow her on Twitter: @RoseAnnDeMoro

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