Book Review: Dollar Democracy by Peter Mathews
(APN) ATLANTA — Dollar Democracy, a new book by Prof. Peter Mathews, examines the role of campaign contributions from wealthy individuals and corporations in subverting the democratic process; and in creating public policy that favors the wealthy and corporations over working people.
Mathews is a Professor of Political Science at Cypress College in Cypress, California, in north Orange County; and teaches sociology as an Adjunct Professor at Long Beach City College.
He ran for U.S. Congress in 1992, seeking to challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Horn (R-CA).
He tells Atlanta Progressive News that he is open to, but not necessarily planning, a future run for U.S. Congress again.
“I would not rule out running for office,” he said.
The book is 359 pages, and is printed in large font. The book is published by Amazon.com, and does contain a few typos that might have been caught by a publishing house.
The first chapter, “Buying American Politics and Selling Out the American Dream,” explains the problem of what Mathews refers to as Dollar Democracy.
Chapters 2 through 7 outline how Dollar Democracy affects different aspects of life for working people in the U.S., including jobs and the economy; education; health care; destroying our environment for immediate profits; big agribusiness, pesticides, and GMOs; and the Great Recession.
If one accepts the premise of Chapter 1–that unlimited campaign contributions are subverting democracy and the democratic process–then one may skip or selectively peruse Chapters 2 through 7, as these chapters are the evidence to support that central claim, which is made in Chapter 1.
Chapter 8 explores solutions, and is particularly enlightening.
Mathews says there are three main solutions to the problems of unlimited campaign contributions, problems that have been exacerbated by the recent rulings in by the Supreme Court of the U.S. the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases.
The three solutions he cites are citizens running clean money campaigns, using the example of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN); adopting statewide public campaign financing models; and amending the Constitution of the U.S. to clarify that corporations are not people and that money is not speech, and to allow U.S. Congress to limit campaign contributions.
As for amending the Constitution, Atlanta Progressive News has covered the Move to Amend campaign that has twice visited Atlanta:
What was particularly enlightening was Mathews’s coverage of state-wide public campaign financing, including in Maine and Arizona.
In Maine, the voters passed the Maine Clean Elections Act in 1996.
In order to qualify as a Clean Money Elections candidates for State House, the candidate has to raise five dollars from 65 registered voters in the district, according to the book. Upon depositing 325 dollars in the Maine Clean Election Fund, the candidate becomes a Clean Money Candidate.
The candidate can then raise a maximum of 500 dollars from private funds, and the State will provide 1,429 dollars for his or her Primary campaign, and 4,724 dollars for the General.
Today, around 70 percent of State House representatives in Maine were elected through this system, according to the book. A similar system exists for State Senate.
Maine funds its system through the nominating fees; through a voluntary check-off box on individuals’ state income tax returns; and through a 2 million dollar allocation from the state budget.
Arizona has a similar system. Former Gov. Janet Napolitano was elected in 2002 and reelected in 2006 as a Clean Money candidate. U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), now a member of Congress, was first elected to the state legislature as a Clean Money candidate.
There has also been movement in Congress on the idea of a Constitutional Amendment.
“S.J.Res.19 – A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections,” was introduced by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), and has 48 co-sponsors, including almost every Democratic Senator and two independents.
The Senate Judiciary Committee favorably reported the resolution on July 10, 2014, in a vote of ten to eight.
Voting yea were U.S. Sens. Pat Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Al Franken (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Daniel Blumenthal (D-CT), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).
Voting nay were U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jeff Sessions (R-AL),
Lindsay Graham (R-SC), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Jeff Flake
In the book, Mathews recalls his 1992 run for Congress, and his visits to seek political action committee (PAC) support from ARCO PAC, a PAC representing the oil and gas industries; and from the California League of Conservation Voters (LCV).
He wasn’t surprised when he failed to receive the ARCO endorsement, but he was shocked and appalled when the LCV decided to support his opponent in the Democratic Primary, even when Mathews was more supportive of the LCV’s issues than his opponent.
Mathews says that the LCV told him that his opponent was more financially viable as a candidate because his opponent had raised 165,000 dollars but Mathews had only raised 5,000.
“Those folks are my complete natural allies. I aced the interview and they said we’re going to support the corporate Democrat. Financial viability, that’s the word they used. He was a corporate lawyer,” Mathews told APN.
Mathews went on to lose the nomination in 1992, but to win it in 1994.
“The whole system has been corrupted and it’s big money that’s doing it, in my view,” he said.
“The ultimate reform is the [proposed] 28th Amendment to the Constitution,” Mathews said, adding that he will join MTA as part of their national ‘barnstorming tour.’”
“I think this amendment will make a big difference,” he said.
“Corporations were started by states, they were a temporary legal fiction to build canals. A corporation could make twelve percent profit. Once it was done, it would have to dissolve, unless they applied for a new permit. It said in the charter agreement that corporations had to serve some public purpose in some way,” Mathews said.
“All that was thrown out the window in 1886 when the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons in the South Pacific Railroad decision,” Mathews said.
Mathews said that California had previously attempted to adopt a public campaign financing system, but that it failed. “Times hadn’t changed yet, now people are so fed up with dollar democracy. It could pass in California,” he said.
“It’s a vicious cycle, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, we have to break out of this,” he said. “It’s an all-encompassing problem that is the basis of all the other problems.”