Report: Campaign law changes hasten power imbalance between rich, poor

Wealthy interests 'keenly focused on concerns not shared by the rest of the American public'

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The U.S. political system is increasingly gamed against Americans of modest means — a situation exacerbated in recent years by major changes in the nation's campaign laws.

That's the overriding takeaway from a new report slated for release today by Demos, a left-leaning nonprofit public policy group "working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy."

The 39-page report, entitled "Stacked Deck," paints a picture of corporate powerhouses and wealthy businesspeople dominating political discourse and exacting disproportionate influence over policy incomes.

The Center for Public Integrity obtained a copy of the report prior to its publication.

Blacks and Latinos — statistically, the poorest Americans when compared to other races and ethnic classes — are particularly marginalized when it comes to political clout, the report states.

Low-wage workers, for example, make up about one-fifth of the nation's population but have very few paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C. While labor unions spend tens of millions of dollars each year lobbying the federal government, unions "are mainly concerned with advocating
on behalf of their members who are paid well above the minimum wage," the report states.

"As private interests have come to wield more influence over public policy, with ever larger sums of money shaping elections and the policymaking process, our political system has become less responsive to those looking for a fair shot to improve their lives and move upward," the study asserts. "Recent developments have aggravated this long emerging trend."

The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision and the rise of super PACs rank highly among those developments, the report states.

"These inequities in political power would still be unfair, but might not matter as much, if the interests of the affluent and corporations were closely aligned with those of the general public. But this is often not the case," the report continues. "Wealthy interests are keenly focused on concerns not shared by the rest of the American public, like keeping taxes low on capital gains, and often oppose policies that would foster upward mobility among low-income citizens, such as raising the minimum wage."

The report proposes three remedies to the problems it says exist.

First, the nation must reduce the "economic inequality that fuels such a large concentration of civic power in the hands of the wealthy." Government should also aim to "reduce the influence of big money in politics." And finally, the body politic must "draw more ordinary people into civic life as a counterbalance to concentrated wealth."

The report, which is scheduled to be publicly available on Demos' website today, also argues against the notion of corporate personhood and suggests corporations should be required to include employees on their boards of directors.