Billionaires Are Bad for Democracy

A new report reveals how oligarchs like Pennsylvania’s Jeffrey Yass are using their wealth to purchase the worst democracy money can buy.
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Our democracy is rigged.

As a voter, do you really think you have as much influence as Pennsylvania billionaire Jeffrey Yass, who has contributed $28.5 million to candidates and right-wing groups thus far in the 2022 election cycle? This is the topic of the new report from Americans for Tax Fairness titled “Billionaires Buying Elections,” released earlier this month. 

“Billionaires, who are used to buying whatever they want, have increasingly dedicated their almost unlimited resources to buying American elections,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “The problem is what’s good for billionaires—including cutting taxes on the rich and corporations—is bad for working families.”

The report serves as a warning of how our democracy is increasingly sliding toward oligarchy. This isn’t new though. Back in 2014 a study by Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin I. Page raised the same alarm about economic elites’ growing, outsized, and unfair influence over policy-making. Apparently, things have gotten worse.

Not surprisingly these billionaires, or maybe we should call them oligarchs, are mostly backing Republicans. What’s even scarier is this doesn’t even take into account “dark money,” a majority of which isn’t even disclosed to the Federal Election Commission

For example, as the report notes, two GOP congressional super PACs received $89.4 million from just 27 billionaires – 86 percent of which came from Wall Street fat cats. That’s almost half of the total $188.3 million that they have in their coffers. 

But Democrats aren’t immune. The oil and gas industry’s favorite senator, Joe Manchin, serves as a great example of a bought lawmaker. And the two main Democratic super PACs received $26 million this cycle, or 17 percent of its total money from billionaires. 

Now you may have thought there would have been a bit of a campaign spending downturn given the global pandemic and the subsequent economic hardships working-class folks across the country and around the world have been facing. Well, the billionaire class is not just doing fine, they’re doing great. As the Institute for Policy Studies pointed out in May, “billionaires have seen their combined wealth rise over $1.7 trillion, a gain of over 58 percent during the pandemic.”

They are obviously seeing returns on their campaign investments. 

But this isn’t just about protecting and expanding their own wealth through tax cuts and other corporate welfare policies. Billionaires like Yass and Peter Thiel have an obvious disdain for democracy and are using their money to back election deniers. Furthermore, the report also called out seven corporations – AT&T, Chevron, ExxonMobil, FedEx, GM, Merck, and UPS – who have done the same thing, giving almost $1.5 million to election deniers this election cycle.

“Some of the same big corporations undermining our democracy by funding members of Congress who voted against confirming Joe Biden as president also undermine our national finances by dodging their fair share of taxes,” the report notes.

Who can we thank for this democratic rot our country is suffering from? The Supreme Court of course, and in particular its 2009 Citizens United decision. Look how much more money has polluted our politics since then. In 2010, when the new rules became lawful, billionaires donated $31 million. In the 2020 election cycle that rose to $1.2 billion, while the upward trend continues this cycle. 

“Congress should take action now by cleaning up campaign finance rules and tax reforms that hold the super wealthy accountable to the same rules as the rest of us,” said Jeff Garis, the federal campaigns and program director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, in response to the report. His organization convenes the 99% Pennsylvania campaign, which launched “Billionaires Buying Elections” with Americans for Tax Fairness.

Yes, fairly tax billionaires

This is one place to start that isn’t radical. It is even popular among voters. But if you have made it this far in my column you already know that that doesn’t matter, that’s not going to happen, and that’s why billionaires are bad for democracy.

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Picture of Cyril Mychalejko

Cyril Mychalejko

Cyril Mychalejko is the Editor-in-Chief of the Bucks County Beacon. Read his columns on Sundays and follow him on Twitter.

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