It's Time to Reclaim Our Democracy

As we follow this year's election coverage in the media, it's important to note the profound influence of corporate money upon our democratic process. This influence is so profound, in fact, that it

Sep 28, 2000 at 2:06 pm

As we follow this year's election coverage in the media, it's important to note the profound influence of corporate money upon our democratic process. This influence is so profound, in fact, that it's quite reasonable to describe our country as a "corporatocracy" rather than a democracy.

Corporations give money to candidates, their families and friends, lobbyists, and even sponsored the Democratic and Republican conventions. Some of these corporations own TV stations, radio stations, newspapers and magazines, and those that don't support those that do by buying advertising space.

Such media control, along with the money, has given corporations far too much influence over public information, political discourse and the democratic process. Political candidates like to talk about character, integrity and values, but the most important thing a candidate can have today is money. The corporate elite knows this is how the system works, and they exploit it to their advantage.

I'm sure most readers have heard of Carl Lindner and Richard Farmer, who run American Financial Corporation and Cintas, respectively. Last year, these two together made over $1.4 million in political contributions (80 percent to Republicans). And that's just last year — they'll likely do the same thing this year, next year and the year after that.

How much are you giving? Now, whom do you think your congressman is more likely to favor, you or them?

Donating this kind of money to politicians is expensive, but it works. Microsoft gave more than $3 million each to the Democratic and Republican conventions. Why? Because Microsoft is in hot soup with federal regulators over questionable business practices, and it wants to grease the palms that hold the whip. And if you think Microsoft is alone, think again: General Motors, Verizon, AT&T, Philip Morris, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Disney all gave over $100,000 to both major party conventions.

Unfortunately, this corporate bankrolling of our political system comes at a cost to the rest of the public. The implacable greed of large corporations has adversely affected the democratic process, not to mention the environment, human rights, human health, economic equality and crime. The imbalance of power between corporations and citizens (reminder: that's you) is getting critical, and it doesn't matter whether we elect more Democrats or Republicans, because the government isn't going to do anything. Nobody can do anything except you.

Five years ago, the Clinton administration helped shift this imbalance of power even more toward corporations by establishing the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD), whose purpose was to make recommendations on facilitating trade between the United States and European Union. Seems harmless enough, right? Wrong! The TABD has instead evolved into something much more sinister, and its goals pose serious threats to people all over the world, not just on both sides of the Atlantic.

There are several major problems with the TABD, starting with the way it operates. It holds its meetings with government officials in private and has deliberately excluded consumer groups from participating. Issues aren't debated in a public forum, and public comments aren't solicited.

Another problem is its membership. The organization consists entirely of CEOs — about 200 of them. There are no representatives for labor, environment, human rights or law. There aren't even any economists.

Corporate CEOs were chosen because they consider themselves the real experts in the arena of international trade, and the U.S. government agrees. But this is fallacy. The only area of expertise corporate CEOs have is in maximizing short-term profits, because that's what makes shareholders and mutual fund managers rich and happy, and that's how CEOs keep their jobs.

By contrast, decisions concerning international trade and economies have far-reaching, long-term consequences for billions of people. Where is the wisdom in relegating such decisions to a few shortsighted people whose only common characteristic is extreme wealth?

As members of the citizenry, we must recognize this problem and try to fix it. What can be done to stop corporations from totally usurping our democracy? The most important thing is to be well informed. Find out where the money comes from and where it's going, and inform yourself about current issues. Don't just let the corporate-owned TV news spoon-feed you. The Constitution was written for "the people," not the corporations.

A good place to begin getting involved is with the TABD conference here in Cincinnati on Nov. 16-18, when CEOs from the U.S. and Europe will meet with government officials to discuss global trade policies. In response, a local citizens group, Coalition for a Humane Economy, is sponsoring a series of teach-ins to educate the public about the TABD and the effects of corporate globalization.

If you're concerned about individual rights, the environment, economic equality and democracy, this is your chance to make your voice heard. Call the coalition's hotline at 513-588-8883 or go to on the Web.

ASHISH BUDEV is a researcher at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and a member of the Alliance for Democracy.