BillMoyers.com is proud to collaborate with EveryVoice on a series of op-eds featuring ideas from a variety of viewpoints for making our democracy one that is truly of, by and for the people. Discover more ways to fight back against our broken campaign finance system. It’s a fight we can win.
I speak from experience. Dial the clock back to 2009. Doctors told me I had head and neck cancer. The primary site was my tongue. The diagnosis was brutal: “It’s aggressive. Without surgery, you may have less than a year. Surgery may save your life, but it may significantly and permanently impact your ability to eat, swallow and speak.”
Less than a month later, I endured a partial glossectomy — a procedure to remove a significant portion of my tongue — a neck dissection, a tracheostomy and reconstruction of my tongue. There followed grueling rehabilitative therapies to learn to eat and speak again.
Suddenly, I had lost something that most of us don’t think about, the ability to communicate clearly and make myself understood. Today, thanks to my gifted surgical team, my highly skilled speech pathologist and the relentless encouragement of family and friends, I can speak.
What once came very easy now takes considerable effort with every word I utter, but I believe that I was given back the gift of speech so that I could use my new voice to go where there is silence. I want to give voice to the silenced majority of which we’re all a part. Our individual voices have been stifled by corporations throwing countless dollars into the political system.
Corporations and this country’s wealthiest individuals have an unparalleled ability to drown out the voices of ordinary people through unlimited spending in elections, inevitably wearing down an electorate that is already losing faith in politicians at all levels. The public mistrusts government to the point where they abstain from voting. Congressional approval ratings are at an all-time low of 15 percent, and in 2014, only 36 percent of eligible voters turned out for the midterm elections, the lowest percentage since 1942. This growing apathy threatens representative democracy at both the local and federal level.
Never before has so much Wall Street and corporate cash poured into our capital. Never before have so many of our nation’s officials assumed key positions in Wall Street firms, lobbying firms and trade associations immediately after exiting office. Our democracy is drowning in big money, and individuals and business alike need to come together to rescue it.
I am proud to be affiliated with a number of organizations which have boldly participated in significant policy debates concerning campaign finance reform. Collectively, we have long advocated heightened transparency in government and ardently supported transparency in campaign fundraising.
As chairperson of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, representing the interests of more than 30,0000 business and civic leaders, and as an executive board member of the Business and Labor Coalition of New York, I can see that the legitimate needs of small and medium-sized businesses get lost in the shadow of jumbo contributions.
There is no question that these businesses are harmed by the pay-to-play system under which political contributions shape legislation. Small and medium-sized businesses are our most dynamic job-creating engine, and we need legislators who are willing to act on their concerns. We cannot continue to foster a system that elevates businesses with the best political connections above those with the best business practices.
New York’s business leaders, like those around the country, and like all voters, want a system in which candidates are accountable to their constituents, and where individuals and businesses are treated equally, regardless of how close they are to a politician’s ear or wallet.
Business leaders in New York and elsewhere solidly support campaign finance reform because we know that the current system hinders economic growth. Long-term growth will come through innovation and an open marketplace that is free from corruption and applies the same set of rules to everyone.
We demand a system that makes elections more transparent, fair and competitive. A system that encourages candidates to be loyal to their own constituents, reassures voters that the system is there to support and benefit a broad socioeconomic community of voters, and encourages diversity in the pool of candidates for office.
The time has come for ALL for us to be a voice for the silenced majority in advocating campaign finance reform. Make no mistake about it: without serious campaign finance reform, democratic government, as we once knew it, will disappear before our very eyes. Without changing the laws by which we elect our governing officials, that government, “of the people, by the people, and for to the people,” will vanish.
Listen carefully! Do you hear that? That is the sound of the shredding of America’s democracy. I implore you to join me in salvaging our democracy before it is too late. I began by saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” Truth is, you knew what you had; you just never thought you’d lose it!