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Money Out! Voters In!

Posted Jan. 16, 2013 / Posted by: Michelle Chan

From climate change to clean water, from healthy forests to safer food, progress on our most important environmental priorities is being crippled by the outsized role of money in politics. It’s an old story by now: big polluters, with their vast army of lobbyists, too often outgun environmental advocates on important public health and environmental policies.

Big corporations, with their loads campaign cash, are able to taint our elections and install anti-environmental public officials. A recent poll showed that almost 90 percent of Americans think there is too much money in political campaigns, and it’s no wonder: we see it clear as day in our own communities. In my hometown of Richmond, California -- with about 40,000 registered voters -- oil giant Chevron plus Big Soda (American Beverage Association) spent $4.1 million on our last local election. That’s over $100 per person; for that money they could have bought our house an X-Box.

But beyond that, monied interests have succeeded in promoting an anti-government agenda that has mounted a full front attack on regulations (e.g. the 2011 “jobs plan” introduced by House majority leader Cantor, which was little more than a plan to gut environmental protections), and the agencies which implement them (e.g. efforts to defund the Securities Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Corporation in the wake of financial reform).

 To quote Friends of the Earth’s statement in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement,

The gross imbalances of economic and political power between the one percent and the rest of society are the result of decades of misguided ideology (neoliberalism) that has exalted unrestrained markets, denigrated government and maximized the influence of corporations over our economic and political lives. Today, functions that were once the domain of the public sector -- from the provision of services, to the protection of our commons, to the fighting of our wars and even the writing of our laws -- have been taken over by corporations that put profit before the public interest.

The problem of “money in politics” has so many ramifications and so many expressions -- from corporate lobbying, to self-dealing among elected officials, to the corporate capture of media, to a political financing structure that excludes third parties -- that it is high time for environmentalists of all stripes to begin coming out in full force to combat the corrupting influence of money in politics.

For Friends of the Earth, this means going beyond some of our past efforts (e.g. our “BP Ten” campaign, which called on the top recipients of oil industry campaign contributions to donate that sum to Gulf Coast recovery efforts; and reports like Buying Bills: How the biofuels industry influences Congress to waste your taxpayer dollars) and joining up with campaign finance reform advocates.

That’s why this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, on the third anniversary of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we are urging our members and supporters to join like-minded advocates from around the country in a national day of action to get Money Out, Voters In!

The 2012 elections were the most expensive in history, with more than $6 billion spent. Eleven states have called for an amendment to overturn Citizens United, following the lead of 350 cities and towns (including Richmond, Calif., where just months ago voters instructed our congressional representative to propose a constitutional amendment reversing corporate personhood and put limits on campaign spending).

The movement to get big money out of politics and put voters back in control is gaining ground, and we’re urging every friend of the earth to get involved. Click here to find an event near you.

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