First, the good news. On Tuesday, with your help, the progressive community won major victories in the Illinois Democratic primaries. As the Washington Post reported, “voters resoundingly rejected Chicago-style machine politics.” Chuy Garcia, a strong progressive who worked with me during our presidential campaign, took on the Chicago Democratic machine and won a landslide victory in his primary election. He will, almost certainly, be the next congressman from the third district of Illinois.
Chuy also helped elect a number of younger progressive who we supported. Alma Anaya, 28, won her primary election for the Cook County Board of Supervisors. Beatriz Frausto-Sandoval, an immigration attorney, won her race for Cook County Circuit Court judge and Aaron Ortiz, a 26-year-old school counselor, won his race for the Illinois State House. Progressives also won a major victory when Joe Berrios, the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party and current County Assessor, and one of the most powerful political figures in the state, lost his reelection bid to progressive candidate Fritz Kaegi.
Thank you all for bringing the political revolution to Illinois.
Now, the bad news. Late last month, the Koch Brothers and their network committed to spend up to $400 million on the 2018 election as a thank you for the Republican Party’s tax cuts for the rich, and “to change the trajectory of this country.”
Given this news, I thought it was an appropriate time to ask the question that the media and most politicians won’t ask: Who are the Koch brothers, what do they want and what are some actions we can take to stop them?
As you may know, the Koch brothers are the extreme right-wing “libertarian” family. They are the third wealthiest family in the country – worth some $120 billion. They also, unbelievably, have more political power than either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. As this country slides into oligarchy and, as a result of Citizens United, we see one family not only making huge campaign contributions, but establishing think tanks, appointing university chairs and creating a number of organizations in almost every sphere of American political life. Their goal: make the very rich richer at the expense of everyone else.
Not only did they help pass the Republican tax bill – which will provide them with about a billion dollars a year in tax breaks – they are also working aggressively to move toward the privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Social Security, Medicare and public education. In fact, they want to repeal virtually every piece of major legislation passed since the 1930s designed to protect the elderly, the children, the sick, the poor and the environment.
Now, it’s hard for me to understand how you could have almost $100 billion and feel the desperate need to lower your taxes, or to take from those who are struggling, so you can have even more. I would think that with that much money you just might be able to get by. But given the news of their projected campaign spending, it doesn’t appear that they are satisfied. Their greed demands more, more and more. They never stop.
What the Koch brothers and their friends want is to spread their unique vision of “freedom” in America. They want to dismember government so as to give Americans the “freedom” to live in poverty working for $3 or $4 an hour without health care, without child care, without a pension, without the ability to afford to send their kids to college and without any hope that their children will have a higher standard of living than they do.
They also want to end – not cut – but end, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. One of the Koch brothers even once ran for president on a platform of “the eventual repeal of all taxation.”
Now, this isn’t personal for me. I don’t know the Koch brothers, but I do know this: the Koch brothers and billionaires like them have bought up the private sector and are now well on their way to buying up the government. And I can assure you, sisters and brothers, they aren’t spending that money with the interests of working families, women and seniors in mind – they are doing it to elect candidates who will make the rich richer and everyone else poorer.
Let’s be clear: Money dominates everything that goes on in Congress. Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the coal and oil companies, agribusiness and the rest of corporate America spend billions every year not just on campaign contributions, but also on lobbying. That is why we have a government that represents the 1 percent, and ignores the needs of almost everyone else.
Do you want to know why we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, and why there are no regulations preventing the drug companies from selling their products for any price they want? It might have something to do with the fact that the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most politically powerful industries in the country and spends endless amounts of money on lobbying and campaign contributions.
In Washington, you get what you pay for, and the result is that the desires of the rich and powerful are well-attended to. The pain of working families is ignored.
This is the rigged economy held in place by a corrupt system of campaign finance that we talked about on our campaign. And it is just as important to take it on today as it was in 2015 and 2016.
If we are serious about creating jobs, gun safety, about climate change and the needs of our children and the elderly, we must be deadly serious about campaign finance reform. And Congress must know you are committed to this fight:
Sign my petition to say you support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Congress needs to know that the American people want representatives in office who oppose the outsized influence millionaires and billionaires have on our elections.
The Koch brothers understand the importance of politics. Meanwhile, people who work for low wages, have no health insurance and live in inadequate housing don’t see a connection between the reality of their lives and what government does or does not do.
Showing people that connection is a very big part of what a true progressive movement has to do, because it is impossible to bring about real social change in this country if people are not involved in the political process.
Our vision for American democracy should be a nation in which all people, regardless of their income, can participate in the political process, can run for office without begging for contributions from the wealthy and the powerful.
Our job is not to think small in this pivotal moment in American history.
We must pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. We need legislation that requires wealthy individuals and corporations who make large campaign contributions to disclose where their money is going. And more importantly, we need to move towards the public funding of elections.
The need for real campaign finance reform is not a progressive issue. It is not a conservative issue. It is an American issue. It is an issue that should concern all Americans – regardless of their political point of view – who wish to preserve the essence of the longest-standing democracy in the world, a government that is supposed to represent all of the people and not just a handful of powerful special interests.
And that starts with overturning the disastrous Citizens United decision:
What we showed in our presidential campaign – in a way that can change politics in America forever – is that you can run a competitive national grassroots campaign without begging millionaires and billionaires for campaign contributions.
That is what we must demand of our elected leaders: a complete rejection of their influence on campaigns. And that starts with making your voice heard.
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