Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What Stephen Colbert can teach YOU.

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On last night's episode of the Colbert Report, the host - Stephen Colbert - had a little demonstration. He has this thing called the Colbert Super PAC (Political Action Committee), a real political action committee that is really approved by the FEC (Federal Election Commission) to run political ads. Why does he, a cable comedy news host, have said PAC?

Some quick legalese for you: In 1976 there was a case heard by the Supreme Court - Buckley v. Valeo - in which the court said that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. In other words Money = Speech. Also, it was found that candidates can give unlimited amounts of money to their own campaigns. However, at the time, there were a few spending limitations put on candidates. They couldn't receive certain amounts of money from businesses or the ultra-wealthy. This case has been hotly contested, but recently a new ruling by the Supreme Court has expanded what was found in '76.

If you'll recall, last year I covered a story in which the Supreme Court heard the case of Citizens United (a PAC) v. Federal Election Commission. The court found that, to put it succinctly, there is no cap on the limit of money a corporation or individual can donate to a Political Action Committee. Combine that with the fact that a PAC does not have to disclose its donors to the public, and you basically have the ability for billionaires, millionaires, and the largest companies in the world to funnel money into a political action committee that can then be used to garner support for the candidates and causes of their choice. No longer can a person with a good message and a dream get his fellow citizens to donate what money they have to his or her campaign to try and get elected, because now elections cost hundreds of millions - if not billions - of dollars. Who has that kind of cash? Big businesses and people with the right last name.

Back to Stephen Colbert's Super PAC. As explained in the video, he was asked what his political action committee stood for, and he then asked the people that donated to his PAC what they wanted it to stand for. He put the most used words in a word cloud - the more often the word was used, the bigger the words appears. Words like Marijuana, Freedom, People, Fair, and Giving were among the larger words. But, then he did something else. He said ok...let's say $1 equals 1 vote. The people that donated $100 obviously get 100x more votes than the guy that donates $1. Then the cloud changed. All of a sudden the largest words were Tax, Education, People, Government, Health, Reform. The ideas of Freedom, Marijuana legalization, and many of the other rights and liberties people said they wanted all but disappeared.

It's a big lesson to learn.

The United States government has said that Money = Speech, and has upheld that argument since 1976, giving the people that have money more and more rights. I suppose the point is this: put your money where your mouth is. This can apply to nearly all situations we care about.

If you want your local bookstore, your local witchy shop, your local farmer's market, your favorite podcast/blog/online institution, your favorite charity, your pet social issue (things like GLBT rights or racial equality), your right to healthcare, your neighborhood park, your grandmother's nursing home, your alma mater, your [insert cause/institution/organization/business here] to thrive...

$pend.

You're going to have to spend your money. You're going to have to do more than say, 'Well that sucks,' when your local Witchy Shoppe Emporium closes its doors. You're going to have to do more than go to your local coffee shop or book store and sit in the comfy chairs tapping on your laptop, not buying anything. You're going to have to support that charity with your dollars, your cash, your hard earned moolah. Because, as we've seen recently, even the largest chains in America (Borders, Circuit City, etc.) are not immune to going under. 

We do not live in a world, anymore, where your voice is heard just by you speaking your mind. You have to spend your money, and you have to organize others to do the same. It's a lesson for any fringe group. Want to know why something like the Tea Party can organize en masse and influence elections and public policy? Because most of their organizations have become backed by very, very wealthy people. Because they've organized and spent money. 

Next time you're griping about a store closing or an organization not doing enough or whatever...ask yourself...what have YOU done about it? Have you put enough money and time into the cause to be considered a $100 donor, or are you just bitching about something and remaining at the $1 level?

The Supreme Court says Money = Speech. What have YOU said lately?

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

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