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Why Are The 1 Percent Powering The Other 98%?

Perusing the FEC records of recent independent expenditures for political campaigns in congressional elections, I came across a curious note about a pair of expenditures in opposition to David Jolly, a Republican seeking to replace the deceased Congressman Bill Young down in Florida. The group that made the expenditures, for radio advertisements, was called Friends Of Democracy.

Friends of Democracy?

I asked myself, what would real friends of democracy do, if they had to spend a big bunch of money? Would friends of democracy take that money and spend it to try to change the course of a congressional election? Wouldn’t Friends Of Democracy just let people vote, without trying to come in and use their big money resources, if they really were friends of democracy? Isn’t democracy simply about letting people vote as they wish to vote, rather than creating a system in which the people with the most money exert the most influence?

I decided to look into Friends of Democracy, and see what kind of organization they are. What I found led me into a deeper uncertainty of how democratic Friends of Democracy really is.

There’s no doubt that Friends of Democracy is a pro-Democratic organization, in the sense that it supports political candidates from the Democratic Party. When it comes to actual democracy, the kind that isn’t owned by any particular political party, the Friends of Democracy organization seems to be less loyal. Friends of Democracy talks a good talk about democracy, to be sure, but in action, it behaves as Friends of Oligarchy.

the other 98

Friends of Democracy gets its money from wealthy contributors. FEC records show that contributions to Friends of Democracy don’t come in increments of twenty dollars here and there, but in increments of thousands of dollars. They come from people like Robert Nathan of North Mohawk Capital, who wrote a check to Friends of Democracy for thousands of dollars. Thousands more came from the wealthy Soros clan, led by the rich and powerful George Soros.

These funders of the Friends of Democracy are members of the 1 Percent, the richest of the rich. They’re using their money, however, to pretend to speak for the rest of us – the 99 Percent. To be more accurate, they’re claiming to speak for the 98 percent – as Friends of Democracy sends large amounts of money to an organization called The Other 98%.

The Other 98% looks like a fantastic organization. I agree with the political ideals it promotes. The way that The Other 98% promotes those ideals, however, seems to undermine them.

The Other 98% claims to be “a grassroots network of concerned people that shines a light on economic injustice, undue corporate influence and threats to democracy.”

I don’t see how The Other 98% is a grassroots network. A grassroots network is built from the ground up, not from the top down. A grassroots network gathers its strength from the involvement of its rank and file members, not from big checks written by wealthy donors.

Is it economically just for The Other 98% to claim to speak for the 98 percent least wealthy of Americans, when in fact it is powered by the 1 percent most wealthy Americans? It’s nice for the wealthy to give some money to promote the interests of those of us who don’t have as much money, but it isn’t honest for them to suggest that the organization is sustained by someone other than the “corporate asses” it claims to oppose.

There’s something disempowering about the way that The Other 98% relies on fat cat money, suggesting that the actual members of the 99 Percent aren’t powerful enough or smart enough to sustain a genuine grassroots effort on their own. While The Other 98 Percent speaks out against corporate influence as a threat to democracy, it is embracing that same corporate influence behind the scenes.

At Irregular Times, we have harshly criticized corporate power brokers for setting up fake grassroots organizations that are dedicated to impoverishing working Americans. The goals of The Other 98% seem to be more genuinely helpful than those of groups like Americans Elect, but good intentions aren’t enough.

When genuine activists get duped into supporting astroturf organizations like The Other 98 Percent, their trust in authentic grassroots organizations is damaged, and they grow cynical and jaded. If they really believe in the worth of the 99 Percent, and in the effectiveness of grassroots politics, the leaders of The Other 98 Percent ought to stop taking donations from people made wealthy by corporate power, and let real grassroots activists take center stage.

We don’t need more Friends of Democracy. We need more democracy.

5 comments to Why Are The 1 Percent Powering The Other 98%?

  • Bill

    While I share your distaste for astroturf calling itself ‘grassroots,’ still I’m mighty glad there are some left-leaning oligarchs out there who are willing to pony up to counter right-wing big money. I think it is, sadly, an approach that is forced upon us, lest Wall Street continue its takeover of government completely unopposed.

    Concerns about big left-wing money opposing big right-wing money are justified, but shouldn’t, I think, be taken too far. I’m reminded of Poland’s fate in 1939. The country’s leaders were ideologically convinced that its cavalry divisions…arguably the best in the world…would turn back a Nazi invasion. But Hitler’s Panzer tanks cut down those brave horsemen in just minutes.

    Never show up at a gunfight with a knife.

  • J Clifford

    I understand your perspective, Bill, and I have some sympathy for it. Part of me wants to applaud what The Other 98 Percent is doing.

    But then, I think, why doesn’t the group just own up to what it is, and give itself a more honest name… like… uh… well, that would have to be People From The Top 1 Percent Elites Using Their Money To Speak For Everyone Else.

    Your analogy accepts the presumption that the 99 Percent are useless, outdated, schmucks who couldn’t possibly assert their own needs on their own terms. They’re like cavalry against tanks. And who would be so stupid to actually count on the American people to take care of their own business when we know that it’s the rich people who will really get stuff done…

    Oops. There’s that whole dissing democracy while pretending to be its friend thing again.

    • Bill

      J, I guess I feel like the 98% (or rather, the progressive 48% of the 98%) have only one really powerful tool against the 1%…mass protests a la Kiev or Istanbul or Cairo. And I just don’t see that happening in modern America. GOTV drives and progressive 3rd parties are fine things, but they’re hard-pressed to compete with billions of dollars financing time-tested political advertising.

  • Dave

    Bill, according to opensecrets.org seven out of the top ten lawmakers receiving out of state (a big indicator of Corporate donations) contributions were Democrats. These politicians work for the corporations, not the people, period. The real irony is that generally Republicans take in a good deal less in general elections from corporations than Democrats, which would make them less beholden to corporations. Not much, mind you, but less is less.

  • Dave

    Oops. “Less beholden to corporations.” In theory, that is.

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