Give Us Back Our Elections …

One of my pet peeves is the 2010 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (FEC), in which the Court ruled that the free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for political communications by corporations, including nonprofit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.  In a nutshell, it opened the door to unlimited donations by wealthy corporations, such lobbying groups as the NRA, and others to basically buy our politicians.  This is why we have a Congress that is unwilling to enact gun regulations, despite the fact that some 80% of the people in this country are in favour of such things as enhanced background checks and a ban on assault weapons.  This is why our very lives are placed at risk by the rolling back of environmental regulations that are so crucial to preserving life on earth.  And this is why there is an ever-widening income gap between the billionaires and the rest of us who live payday to payday.  And this is why ours is no longer a government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’, but rather of, by, and for only the wealthy and powerful people.

I have featured Robert Reich on this blog a few times before.  He is an economist, professor, author, and political commentator. He served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. He was Secretary of Labor from 1993 to 1997. He was a member of President Barack Obama’s economic transition advisory board.  He, better than most, understand the inner workings of our government.  Sans partisanship, he explains why we simply must overturn Citizens United, must get the big money out of politics, and return our elections to We the People.  Please take three minutes to watch …

The NRA’s Path To Power

It’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue, at the center of most discussions, in the headlines of every news outlet:  The National Rifle Association, aka NRA.  The debate about gun regulations is raging, much the same as it always does after a mass shooting, particularly one involving children, but this one may be different, for those children were on the cusp of adulthood, and their friends, those who survived the shooting in Parkland, Florida almost two weeks ago, are old enough to be outraged that a young man, one of their former classmates, was able to buy a military-grade assault weapon, ammunition, and mow down their friends without a thought.  They are outraged to hear politicians skirting around the issue of gun regulation, rather than answering their tough questions.  They are old enough to become activists, and they have a vested interest in doing so.

At a Town Hall just days after the shooting, 17-year-old Cameron Kasky asked Senator  Marco Rubio this question:

“Can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?”

And Rubio’s response?

“I will always accept the help of anyone who agrees with my agenda.”

Yes, the NRA is a powerful lobby, with many of our elected representatives firmly in their pockets.  Rubio’s agenda?  It’s whatever the NRA tells him it is, if he wishes to maintain his A- rating with the NRA and keep the campaign donations and other perks rolling in.  But it wasn’t always this way.  The NRA did not start out to rule the nation from behind the scenes, but rather began with the goal of teaching rifle competency and safety.  It wasn’t until 1934 that the NRA created its Legislative Affairs Division, prompted by what they saw as attacks on 2nd Amendment ‘rights’.  Until 1975, the group contented itself with merely informing its members of pending gun legislation.

hands-tiedIn 1975, however, the group created its Institute for Legislative Action, in response it says, to “the critical need for political defense of the 2nd Amendment”.  Then in 1990, they created the NRA Foundation, a tax-exempt organization that allows the NRA “to raise millions of dollars to fund gun safety and educational projects of benefit to the general public.”

The reality, however, is that the NRA actively supports, both through direct campaign contributions and through advertising, those political candidates who vote against any and all gun regulation.  And they advertise against those candidates who support such things as a ban on assault weapons, enhanced background checks, waiting periods or any other restrictions on gun ownership.  They also provide legal services to those convicted in gun-related cases.  If you shoot me and I sue you, the NRA would likely pay your legal fees. (Don’t get any ideas, okay?)

The NRA’s power once again increased in 1994, after President Clinton signed the ban on assault weapons, as well as the Brady Bill, which called for background checks and a waiting period for purchasing a gun.  The NRA went into overdrive, and since it was a mid-term election year, were quite successful in helping candidates opposed to those two measures get elected.

On April 20, 1999, in Littleton, Colorado, two Columbine High School students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, armed with four guns killed 12 classmates, a teacher, and themselves.  Less than two weeks later, the NRA held its annual meeting in Denver, just 34 miles from Littleton, where Planet of the Apes actor Charlton Heston gave a speech, saying that the NRA is often “cast as the villain,” but that they “must not let tragedy lay waste to the most rare, hard-won right in history.”

And then came December 14, 2012, and the tragedy that lives on in our memories, the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.  Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 young children and six adults.  The following month, President Obama unveiled proposed legislation aimed at reducing gun violence.  The NRA response?  An ad, attacking not only Obama, but also involving his children:

“Are the president’s kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.”

And now, here we are today, on the heels of yet another tragic and preventable school shooting, and the NRA is up in arms once again.  But this time feels different.  This time, the victims weren’t little kids, and this time we are all sick and tired of seeing our children die senseless deaths.  This time, the NRA is the one ‘under the gun’.  Last week, ThinkProgress identified some of the companies who partner with the NRA, providing service discounts to members – car rental companies, hotels, banks, airlines***.  In response to the public outcry, many of those companies, the notable exception being FedEx, have severed ties with the NRA.  FedEx has declined to sever ties with the NRA, saying it would be ‘discriminatory’.  Many shippers say they will switch their business to UPS, DHL, or the USPS.  I ship little, but will not use FedEx in the future.

Today, ThinkProgress published a list of all the banks who are financing the assault weapons industry.  The list contains some of the largest banks in the nation, including JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America.  The banks may not quite as easily sever their ties, but citizens with a conscience may well take their business elsewhere.  I was pleased to see that neither of my own banks was on the list. On a positive note, Bank of America issued the following statement:

“We are joining other companies in our industry to examine what we can do to help end the tragedy of mass shootings, and an immediate step we’re taking is to engage the limited number of clients we have that manufacture assault weapons for non-military use to understand what they can contribute to this shared responsibility.”

It’s a start, folks.  A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, yes?

Yes, the NRA is a powerful lobby, one that exists solely to help gun manufacturers, sporting goods companies, and others involved in the manufacture and sales of firearms and ammunition.  Make no mistake … the NRA is not about the safety of this nation and its people … it is all about money.  Two weeks ago, this nation suffered a massive tragedy, one that could have … would have … been avoided had it not been for the firearms industry and the NRA, and the elected officials who are in their pockets.  It wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last.  But this time feels different.  This time, the young people are raising their voices and saying #NeverAgain.  And the NRA is feeling the heat, as evidenced by Wayne LaPierre’s off-the-wall speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which will be the topic of my next post.

*** Note:  Just as I scheduled this post last night, I saw the following headline:  

Georgia’s lieutenant governor says he will ‘kill’ Delta tax break unless airline reinstates relationship with NRA

“I will kill any tax legislation that benefits Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with the NRA,” tweeted Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, referring to a bill that could save Delta taxes on jet fuel. “Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back.”

See what I mean, friends?  It is not about the safety or well-being of this nation.  It is about profits, plain and simple.