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This afternoon, we were privileged at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills California to host former Senator Russ Feingold.  His topic was billed as “The Citizens United Decision (2010) and the Role of Corporate Money in the American Political Process.”

From my notes:
He began with the comment how we are losing our democracy, our involvement, our sense of belonging as a “casualty of unlimited money.”  He spoke about the history of public finance reform throughout time, from the Tillman Act of 1907, signed into law by President Roosevelt, The Taft-Hartley Act, the influence of Watergate on disclosure rules, and of course, McCain/Feingold which banned “soft money”.

Head on, he addressed the fact that Barack Obama being re-elected in this post Citizens United environment does not mean this is no big deal. “These things shift.  We won’t ever have a Barack Obama again.”  He of course was referring to the cycles of politics and how the pendulum tends to swing back and forth.  He doesn’t predict the same outcome for next election cycle, but the time to act is now before we know who any of the candidates will be.

Perhaps most startling was his comments on who this impacts the most:  corporate leaders and rich people.  He actually called it extortion.  He gave the example of the CEO of FedEx explaining to him that he has a fiduciary responsibility to put money into elections—he’s obligated.  “How can I not put $200,000 into something that will help my company?”  To call it a racket, would be an understatement.  Senator Feingold called it organized crime.

His last point of the day was that the corporation always wins.  They put money (often) into both sides of the aisle.  That’s why you’ll get these huge lopsided votes like 95-3, or 90-8 in controversial spending bills in the Senate.  He singled out the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Most Favored Nations for China and of course, the Glass-Steagall repeal.  Money in politics has consequences. This is what the contributions do.

Through his group, Progressives United, he is advocating to overturn Citizens United.  The main strategy is the nomination of a progressive justice, assuming one of the 5 (from the 5-4 ruling) decides to retire in the next few years.  But more importantly, passing the California Disclose Acst (which is only 1-2 votes away) will be a major step in the right direction.  As the nation’s most populous state, and its richest, the California Disclose Act will be a milestone toward improvement of our political process.

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