Mid-term elections are often considered a referendum on the party in power. Most of us agree that ‘hope and change’ has proven easier said than done. On big issues like healthcare and reforming Wall Street, “change” met intense resistance from powerful interest groups.
But despite disappointment with the pace and unevenness of economic recovery, voters know that change is still what is needed. And when they go to the polls, the clearest way they can send that message is by voting for candidates on the Working Families party ballot line. Those votes will count for major party candidates whom Working Families has “cross-endorsed,” including Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Dan Malloy. But voting on the Working Families line also sends a message to politicians from both parties that the concerns of ordinary citizens should matter as much as the lobbyists and power brokers.
When it comes to influencing public policy, it can be difficult for grassroots groups like Working Families to match the financial fire power of the corporate interests, which spent heavily to block or weaken healthcare legislation and Wall Street reform. The numbers are staggering. Health insurance companies spent $38 million lobbying against healthcare reform. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $123 million spent by the Chamber of Commerce, which also lobbied against healthcare reform. And if that sounds like a lot of money, how about Wall Street lobbying? Financial industry lobbying totaled $465 million in 2009, mostly to block the formation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency. That’s over $1.3 million of lobbying per day.
As if that weren’t enough, many of those same interest groups are spending even more money to influence the outcome of Tuesday’s election. As much as half a billion dollars – much of it from undisclosed sources – is being spent on political ads in support of corporate positions on everything from trade to employment law to the environment.
This unparalleled influx of corporate cash has focused mostly on telling us which candidates might be secret socialists, puppets, providers of Viagra to sex offenders, or other nefarious characters. For anyone skilled in the art of composing creepy music and producing grainy images of elected officials with embarrassing expressions on their faces, business is booming.
It’s easy to understand why many ordinary voters might feel a bit alienated from our political system. After all, what ordinary family can afford to hire lobbyists to represent them? And most of us – 98% to be exact – don’t make contributions to political campaigns. Record numbers of voters have expressed dissatisfaction with both major parties. And if the barrage of nasty attacks ads accomplishes anything it will surely be to sour voters even further on the whole political process.
But unless we’re really ready to give up altogether on the idea of a participatory democracy, we can’t let big money buy our silence on Election Day. We can’t do much about the other three hundred and sixty four days of the year. But Election Day is the one day when everyone’s voice truly counts equally. Whether you’re a minimum wage worker or a CEO, your vote counts the same. The Wall Street executive gets one vote, and so does the guy who shines his shoes at the train station. In an era when the gap between the rich and poor is reminiscent of Dickens’ England, and when corporate cash floods the airwaves, the idea of “one person, one vote” seems all the more remarkable.
Three hundred and sixty-four days per year, ordinary people can’t compete with corporations and interest groups. One day of the year they can. And it’s coming up around the bend. Don’t miss it. And consider making your vote really count – not only for the candidates, but for the issues that matter to ordinary citizens – by voting on the Working Families.
Jon Green is the executive director of the Working Families Party.