Thursday, December 11, 2003

Selling Out: How Corporate Money Buys Elections, Rams Through Legislation and Betrays Our Democracy
by Mark Green
Regan Books, October 2002

Yesterday's Supreme Court's decision may have put the cabosh on Mitch McConnell's attempt to derail the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, but we still have a long way to go before corporate money isn't the determining factor in the outcome of so many key elections in the U.S.

Mark Green's Selling Out is an excellent primer for those who want to understand campaign finance reform and corporate influence in politics. An ex-Nader's Raider, Green is a prolific writer on government and politics. He was also the commissioner for consumer affairs in New York City before running a losing campaign for Mayor against billionaire Bloomberg. The millions that Bloomberg spent out of his personal fortune may not have been the only reason Green lost, but they were enough to make him dedicate a few months after the campaign to writing a new book that would awaken citizens to the dangers of letting their democracy drown in a cesspool of corporate cash.

It's unfortunate that it didn't get much attention when it was released. The book is well-researched and exposes many examples of corporate influence-peddling. It also squarely addresses many of the arguments made by the leading critics of campaign finance reform.

In the final chapter, Green holds up a few suggestions for what we should do next, now that McCain-Feingold is secure, including overturning Buckley v. Valeo so that state and local governments can put limits on campaign spending (and offer candidates a level playing field); public funding of elections (which has begun to work in some states) and access to free air time by all significant candidates.

Of course reclaiming our democracy is no simple task. And others would suggest that Green could have added that we also need to open up the debates to a broader range of candidates and make ballot access easier for third party candidates. It would also be nice if we had Instant Runoff Voting (like they will in San Francisco in November 2004). Some, including Jesse Jackson, Jr. have suggested that ultimately, we need to pass an amendment to the constitution giving us the right to vote. (Did you even know that you don't have a constitutionally guaranteed right to vote?).

Appearing on the Phil Donahue Show in 2002, Green suggested that if we don't take at least a few additional practical steps, pretty soon we will reach the point where only two types of candidates will be able to run for office: independently wealthy moguls like Bloomberg and Ross Perot who are the only ones able to afford the expense of running out of their own pockets, or corporate lackeys under the total control of the wealthy special interests who bankroll their campaigns.

For more on fair elections and corporate influence see
the Center for Voting and Democracy.
National Voting Rights Institute