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How to end crony capitalism

By Robert B. Reich, Tribune Content Agency on

The largest corporations and the richest people in America -- who donated billions of dollars to Republican candidates for the House and Senate in the 2016 election -- appear on the way to getting what they paid for: a giant tax cut.

The New York Times reports that business groups are meeting frequently with key Republicans in order to shape the tax bill, details of which remain secret.

Speed and secrecy are critical. The quicker Republicans get this done, and without hearings, the less likely the rest of the country will discover how much it will cost in foregone Medicaid and Medicare or ballooning budget deficits.

Donald Trump has been trashing democratic institutions -- the independence of the press, judges who disagree with him, uncooperative legislators -- while raking in money off his presidency. But don't lose sight of the larger attack on our democracy that was underway even before Trump was elected: the flood of big money into politics.

Lest you conclude it's only Republicans who have been pocketing big bucks in exchange for political favors, consider what Big Tech -- an industry that has mostly bankrolled Democrats -- is up to.

It's mobilizing an army of lobbyists and lawyers -- including senior advisors to Hillary Clinton's campaign -- to help scuttle a proposed law requiring Google, Facebook and other major Internet companies to disclose who is purchasing their online political advertising.

After revelations that Russian-linked operatives bought deceptive ads in the run-up to the 2016 election, you'd think this would be a no-brainer. But never underestimate the power of big money, whichever side of the aisle it's aimed at.

Often, it's both sides. Last week, The Washington Post and "60 Minutes" reported that Big Pharma contributed close to $1.5 million to Democrats as well as Republicans in order to secure enactment of the so-called Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016.

This shameful law weakened the Drug Enforcement Administration's power to stop prescription opioids from being shipped to pharmacies and doctors suspected of taking bribes to distribute them -- a major cause of the opioid crisis. Last year, Americans got 236 million opioid prescriptions, the equivalent of one bottle for every adult.

Overwhelming majorities of House and Senate Democrats voted for the bill, as well as Republicans, and President Obama signed it into law.

There you have it, folks. Big money is buying giant tax cuts, allowing Russia to interfere in future elections, and killing Americans. And that's just the tip of the corrupt iceberg that's sinking our democracy.

Republicans may be taking more big money, but both parties have been raking it in.

Average Americans know exactly what's going on.

I just returned from several days in Kentucky and Tennessee, two states that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

A number of Trump voters told me they voted for him because they wanted someone who'd shake up Washington, drain the swamp and get rid of crony capitalism. They saw Hillary Clinton as part of the problem.

These people aren't white nationalists. They're decent folks who just want a government that's not of, by and for the moneyed interests.

Many are now suffering buyer's remorse. They recognize that Trump has sold his administration to corporate lobbyists and Wall Street. "He conned us," was the most polite response I heard.

The big money that's taken over American politics in recent years has created the biggest political backlash in postwar American history -- inside both parties.

It's splitting the Republican Party between its large corporate patrons and a base that detests big corporations and Wall Street.

Trump is trying to straddle both sides by pretending he's a champion of the working class while pushing for giant tax cuts. But if my free-floating focus group in Kentucky and Tennessee is any indication, the base is starting to see through it.

You might think this creates a huge opportunity for Democrats heading into the 2018 midterms and the presidential election of 2020. Think again. Much of the official Democratic Party is still in denial, continuing to debate whether it should be on the proverbial "left" or move to the "middle."

But when it comes to getting big money out of politics and ending crony capitalism, there's no right or left, and certainly no middle. There's just democracy or oligarchy.

Democrats should be fighting for common-sense steps to reclaim our democracy from the moneyed interests -- the public financing of elections, full disclosure of all sources of political funding, an end to the revolving door between government and business, and attempts to reverse the bonkers Supreme Court decision "Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission."

For that matter, Republicans should be fighting for these things, too.

Here's a wild idea. What if the anti-establishment wings of both parties came together in a pro-democracy coalition to get big money out of politics?

Then it might actually happen.

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(Robert Reich, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of "Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few," now available in paperback. His new film, "Inequality for All," is now out on Amazon, DVD and On Demand. His daily blog is at www.facebook.com/RBReich/.)

 

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