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.
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.