Why Billionaires Shouldn't Exist In A Democracy: Interfering in Our Elections

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Amazon's interference in Seattle's city council race show wealthy individuals and companies are threats to democracy

New Republic - November 8, 2019

"It is true that Amazon, or any domestic company, interfering with elections is not the exact same thing as a foreign company or government spending money in American elections. But how different is it in practice? The logic of rejecting foreign influence in our elections—down to the point of banning any foreign national without a green card from buying a t-shirt from a campaign—is to prevent foreign governments from influencing electoral outcomes for their own potential gain. Again: How significant is the difference between a foreign government seeking to shape our government to its liking, and a huge, multinational corporation that happens to be located in the United States trying to do the same? Or, for that matter, a single billionaire?"

Imagine this: One of the largest companies in Russia and the world, with billions of dollars in contracts with the Russian government, dumps $1.5 million into an American local election with the intent to shape the outcome to be more favorable to its interests. It donates or spends this money on the candidates it knows will vote for policies that keep its taxes low. We would have to imagine that the disclosure of such a scheme would touch off outrage, congressional hearings, wall-to-wall coverage on MSNBC and CNN, perhaps even special counsel investigations or the sanctioning of elected officials. It would dominate news cycle after news cycle.

Before you fire up Twitter and sound the dezinformatsiya alarm, this did not happen. What did happen is that Amazon, headed by the world’s richest man and armed with $230 billion in revenue last year, spent $1.5 million on an attempt to mold the outcome of the Seattle city council election. The effort wasn’t particularly successful—their candidates failed to win a majority—but the company may have succeeded in toppling some of their loudest opponents, including socialist councilwoman Kshama Sawant, though many ballots that may tip in her favor remain uncounted.

Regardless of the result, the episode should serve as a reminder of the utterly insane state of campaign finance in America. It is bonkers that a corporation of any national origin, including America, can openly spend money with the intent of manipulating an election to their liking, whether or not it works (and it often does). It is wild that we are even talking about “Amazon-backed candidates” in any setting outside of a bribery hearing.

In the case of Seattle’s elections, Amazon dropped a tiny bit of its vast resources into trying to purchase a council that would prize the company’s interests over the interests of Seattle residents, and to quiet progressive critics who have credibly accused Amazon of worsening the homeless crisis. ...
Read full article at New Republic

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