I was in Paris last week, reporting on the Task Force for Financial Integrity and Economic Development’s annual conference. After a fascinating day hearing how illicit financial flows and tax avoidance are destroying the developing world, American economist Jeffrey Sachs gave an excellent keynote speech over the video link. Particularly interesting were his points on the impact of corporate lobbying and financing on US democracy.
“Our democracies are getting eaten alive by lobbying,” Sachs said.
Sachs argued against companies being allowed to give unlimited resources to parties, and the particular problem of anonymous donations.
“The Supreme Court said corporate money given anonymously should be equated to free Speech,” Sachs said.
He pointed to Obama’s attempts to raise $1 billion for next year’s election campaign and the $35,000 per head dinners he has hosted to help him reach that target.
“What’s the point of that?” Sachs asked. “Maybe a few hundred of it is to get your picture taken with Obama, but most of it is to get access to the President. It’s an issue of financial integrity. It cuts to the heart of our democracies.”
Sachs called for regulation to prevent the growth of companies so large they threaten democracy.
“Corporate money equals free speech? No. It may not be the opposite, but it’s close to the opposite,” Sachs said.
Sachs sees that the role of companies in society should be to make money within an effective regulatory framework, not to try to change that framework for their own ends.
He believes that the reason nothing is getting done on climate change is corporate lobbying.
And he’s right. American democracy relies more on cents than sense. Its fundamental pillars are not built on votes, but dollars. When two billion dollar parties can be bought and sold by the same group of business interests holding both their purse strings, where do the people fit in? Does it even matter whether the Republicans or Democrats are in power if corporate money can throw the clog in the machine of any genuine attempts for change?