Sunday, March 2, 2014

#61 / Gazillionaires

As indicated by her recent column in the San Francisco ChronicleDebra Saunders is worrying about the political influence of gazillionaires. That word crops up near the end of the column. Here's how the column starts: 

Chronicle readers, beware. At a recent confab at a billionaire's ranch, an elite gathering of business titans agreed to spend $100 million - thanks to legal loopholes that allow them to skirt federal campaign contribution limits - to elect like-minded politicians who will help them halt the wheels of government, move their party further from the political center and thwart the will of the American people.

That worry about the undue influence of money on politics sounds like something I have been worrying about, too. It sounds a lot like the Koch Brothers. However, after the reader gets by the first paragraph of Saunders' column, it becomes clear from the second paragraph that Saunders is actually providing a warning about "liberal" gazillionaires: 

In February, local billionaire Tom Steyer invited fellow liberal plutocrats to his Pescadero ranch, where he challenged them to produce $50 million - to match $50 million he has pledged - to help elect politicians who share their views on climate change. Brother Jim told The New Yorker that the brothers Steyer wanted to be the Koch brothers of the left. Tom Steyer nixed that notion, saying, "We think we're representing the vast bulk of citizens of the United States. We're not representing our pockets."

The bulk of Saunders' column is devoted to a kind of "he said; she said" discussion about whether Tom Steyer is just the same as the Koch Brothers. Maybe Steyer is different, as he claims. I certainly do like his position on global warming a lot better than that of the Koch Brothers.

To be fair to Saunders, however, the actual point of her column may be that "both sides" have their gazillionaire backers, and that money does have free speech rights, whatever side it's arguing. This would put Saunders squarely in line with the best thinking of the United States Supreme Court, which promulgated the following equation in the important Citizens United decision

Money = Free Speech

I don't think "gazillionaires" of any political stripe should be running our politics. Maybe it will be possible to amend the Constitution, to deal with Citizens United, but in the meantime, the way to keep the gazillionaires from dominating our politics is to pile into politics ourselves, in large numbers.

That seems only right. We can't really expect to have "self government" if we don't get involved ourselves.

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