Friday, April 3, 2015

What The Banks Did Says Everything About How America Works (And How To Fix It)

You couldn't ask for a clearer example of the difference between big donors and regular ones. As we stated in our Knight Foundation application:

"For [large donors], money is speech. It grants access and a chance to make their wants known. When a politician meets with industry leaders, there's rarely any question as to what they wanted."

Last Friday, in frustration with Elizabeth Warren's call to break them up, JPMorgan, Citibank, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America threatened to withhold donations from Senate Democrats. And, in fact, Citigroup has already suspended donation to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over concerns Warren and like-minded Senators could be given more power.
But the maximum amount of money at stake is only $15,000 per bank - meaning that this is a symbolic move (as far as banks go). So why is this important?

It's important because the banks are able to send an incredibly powerful signal in three ways regular Americans can't:

1. It Sets Priorities: Taking a stance like this demonstrates that this issue is of critical importance to the banking community. Wealthy interests regularly identify the top things they want from the government and use contributions to express this.

Compare this with average voters whose main forms of communication are so effortless there's no need to prioritize at all.

2. It's before the election: This may seem obvious, but these banks, their lobbyists and their representatives, are sending a powerful message well before the election. While it may seem like campaign season is the best time to get their attention, it's not. The special interests that get what they want are talking about how legislation today affects their actions in November.

3. It represents other people: It may be true that the banks can only give $15,000, but they represent a large banking sector with lots of people. Unsurprisingly, Goldman Sachs, its affiliates and all its employees make up the 35th largest contributor in the country. While Goldman may not have direct control over all these other people, its stances are surely influential over their actions (which is why it's REALLY great that the Federal Elections Commission collects occupation and employer info). As the article points out

"Still, political strategists say Clinton could struggle to raise money among Wall Street financiers who worry that Democrats are becoming less business friendly."

So, what can we do as citizens? Well, this wouldn't be the ShiftSpark blog if we didn't say ShiftSpark was created to give us the power to do exactly these things, too.

1. Priorities: With pledges based on actual issues, you can set your priorities. You may not be able to pledge $15 to your top 100 issues, but that's the point. Even with one of the largest lobbies in America, banks know that that they need to be precise to get a few things they want each year.

2. Timing: The most powerful tools we have for affecting politicians are the ones that directly affect elections - contributions and votes. You can't vote before the election but, unlike the banks, there's also no real point in talking about giving early either because it doesn't change anything. ShiftSpark changes that, pledging today can have an impact on legislation tomorrow because it will influence elections in a year.

3. Representing People: The banks may influence their employees, but people who pledge and donate are influencers, too. Committing your money is a signal not just to politicians, but to other people, that this issue is important. As support grows, it becomes exponentially more important, forcing people to recognize that there are real people, and real resources, behind the issue. And finally, in the end, the $10 you pledged is converted into real action for your cause: canvassers, ads, busses, all the things that win elections for the people who support your issue.

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