No Representation Without Monetary Donatation

The high cost of being poor is a well-known phenomenon to the American families who are struggling to keep their heads above rising financial tides.

Last year the Economist ran an article explaining that poor Americans are choosing to not have bank accounts because they cannot keep enough money in their accounts to avoid the monthly service fees – others fear being bludgeoned by costly $40 overdraft fees.

To avoid these fees, people have to resort to another costly but more certain set of fees they must incur in order to work around banks.

Cashing a paycheck with no bank account typically costs 2-5% of the check’s value. Turning that cash into a money order to make a payment then incurs another fee. In 2008, the Brookings Institution estimated that such fees can add up to $40,000 over the career of a full-time worker.

This is just one of many examples of how small events can be devastating to families living paycheck-to-paycheck.

In addition to business fees or cost-of-living expenses, low-income Americans experience state-imposed legislation that criminalizes poverty. Sometimes these rules are obvious – debtors jails haveresurfaced in one third of states – and others are done in the guise of fairness and principle.

While trying to make ends meet, each citizen is supposed to have the opportunity to vote for the politician they feel will work to provide them the best shot at improving their financial and social standings.

However, that idea has been eroded by legislation that disproportionately targets the poor – especially poor minorities.

States have taken to enacting Voter ID laws that impact elderly, disabled and low-income residents more than middle and upper class earners. These laws are all too often enacted in the name of fighting the virtually non-existent problem of voter fraud.

It’s no secret that poor American families are disproportionately comprised of minorities. Black and Hispanic/Latino families are three times as likely as white ones to be in poverty.

While both poor whites and minorities are less likely to vote, eligible minority voters who do not vote are more likely to attribute the reason to being unable to make it  to the polls. Whereas white voters who do not vote are more likely to express poor choices in candidates as their reason for not voting, according to the American Psychological Association

Some of the methods used by state legislators to restrict the poor from voting are so discreet they would be the envy of movie villains everywhere.

In 2000, a Florida bill was proposed by a GOP legislator that would have increased the jail time for individuals who collect two welfare checks after becoming employed from 365 to 366 days. The difference in that one day is that the action would have been considered a felony, making the offender ineligible to vote.

Processes such as those described trap families in perpetual poverty. Whether this outcome is intentional or not the results are the same.

Some may argue that the overdrafters spent money they didn’t have and the welfare check casher did break the law. ‘Don’t do the crime if you can’t pay the fine or do the time’.

This is a perfectly fine argument if the wealthy weren’t also enjoying an expansion of freedoms – both financially and legally – thanks to their monetary influence.

While overdrafts hinder low-income earners the wealthy benefit from legislation that creates new ways for them to keep their money in their bank accounts. The recent exposure of the Panama Papers by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) contains 11.5 million records showing “how a global industry of law firms and big banks sells financial secrecy to politicians, fraudsters and drug traffickers as well as billionaires, celebrities and sports stars,” according to the ICIJ.

Every year, the United States loses an estimated $100 billion in tax revenues due to offshore tax shelters exclusively for the wealthy and large corporations – money that could be well spent balancing the national debt.

Those responsible for the 2008 housing market collapse have yet to see criminal charges thanks to the Obama Administration’s fear ofcollateral consequences – a policy popularized through former Attorney General and corporate defense lawyer at Covington and Burling, Eric Holder.

All too often, having more money means having a different set of legal standards. Which party stole more from American families, the person cashing an extra welfare check in Florida or the banking officials that caused the Great Recession?

In her book, Dark Money, Jane Mayer traces the lineage of money as it works its way into buying political influence by funding both election campaigns and innocuously-named think tanks (i.e. the Heartland Institute, Heritage Foundation or CATO institute) that are responsible for prepackaging arguments that politicians can use to incorrectly explain why these corporate-friendly policies will favor both the wealthy and the poor. Trickle-down economics, loosened environmental legislation and the privatization of social programs for collective gain are all part of this strategy – and are all fairytales.

After dumping billions of dollars into the founding of shill organizations disguised as political think tanks, the Koch brothers and other reclusive wealthy donors pitched the organizers to nefarious industries as the best places for dubious business to get a return on their investments. Tobacco, oil, coal, banks and other industries, could use these charitable – and most importantly undisclosed – donations to get policy returns without getting caught in a scandal.

Dark money think tanks increasingly launched assaults on universities, newspapers, government agencies and bipartisan think tanks. They promoted junk science that would be favorable to the tobacco and oil companies that were donating to the think tanks. These industry shills then pushed the trickle-down economic theory that would favor the obscenely wealthy into the public spotlight, while also launching an assault on workers’ wages and rights.

The culmination of this decades-long and obscenely funded process has been the Citizens United ruling of 2010 which gave corporations and unions the power to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools in support of individual candidates.

The ruling essentially says that corporations and labor unions may spend as much money as they want to sway voters.

Rather than donating money directly to a candidate, the money goes to a super PAC, which behaves as a shadow political party. The PACs accept unlimited contributions from donors, corporations and unions and use it to buy advertising or fund election campaigns.

Think tanks disguised as nonprofits and charitable organizations can use this ruling to behave as super PACs but with one added benefit – so long as election activity is not their primary activity these nonprofits do not have to report who funds them.

An attempt by Congress to pass a law requiring disclosure wasblocked by Republican lawmakers.

The ruling has determined that monetary spending is equivalent to speech, and is therefore protected by the Constitution. More money, more speech. More speech, more say.

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The spending-to-date analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics (above) shows how much money has begun flowing into political elections over the years. As of April 18th, the 2016 election cycle has seen roughly $200,000,000 more spent by campaigning officials than at its last peak-to-date in 2012.

Processes that keep poor people poor are preventing those same people from being able to vote for the representative of their choosing. There is a simultaneous systematic acceptance of those with more money being above the law and holding a disproportionate amount of influence thanks to their deep pockets.

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