You Have More Power Than Facebook

Stop howling at the moon. Start spending on good politicians.

Do you believe everything you read? Of course not. While it’s true that corporations, unions, Russians and plutocrats spend money on elections and employ misleading posts on Facebook and other social media sites when doing so, far more impactful is that individuals don’t spend enough in direct support of good politicians.

Cocktail parties in my town of San Francisco are filled with people talking about politics yet devoting a tiny fraction of the amounts they spend on consumption to the support of good politicians. Perhaps they take our democracy for granted. But democracies are rare and fragile. That’s why I wrote Tithe to Democracy, formed a network of informed political philanthropists (Govern For California) to support pro-citizen state legislators, and devote a good share of my and my wife’s money to freeing those legislators to govern for the benefit of citizens.

If you care about public education, health and safety, the environment, a functioning court system, taxes and fees making it to services rather than lining the pockets of insiders or servicing corruptly-created debts, and better jobs for the millions of your fellow citizens who depend on wages from the in-state economy, you can be more impactful than Facebook or Twitter. Likewise, you can be more impactful than corporations, unions and plutocrats who since long before the Citizens United case have been permitted to spend on campaigns in California. Elections in California are largely determined by the presence — or absence! — of well-informed, philanthropically-minded, pro-citizen, individual political donors. When individuals make a sufficient level of direct donations to pro-citizen candidates for office, those candidates can win.

A donation of no more than $4,400 per candidate per election in California can help liberate that candidate to govern for citizens instead of special interests when allocating more than $300 billion per year and setting the rules that finance and govern California’s schools, prisons, employers, parks, courts and the environment. Donations of any size make a difference.

But beware: Uninformed donations can be highly destructive. For example, this candidate for an important state office touts his support for education but doesn’t mention his 2015 vote to boost salaries for prison guards — their third in four years — that took money from UC, CSU and other services. As explained here, elected officials often count on you not knowing what they really do.

Democracies are not spectator sports. As Thomas Jefferson said, “we don’t have majority rule; we have rule by the majority who participate.” If that’s not sufficient motivation, consider the concluding sentence of the Declaration of Independence:

And for the support of this Declaration, . . . we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

The founders pledged their fortunes to our democracy. No less is required of us. Collectively our power is huge: Networks of informed individual donors making direct contributions can be much more effective than corporations, unions and plutocrats who concentrate on independent expenditures.

Stop blaming Facebook, Twitter, Russia, plutocrats and others and start spending in support of today’s Abe Lincolns. And if you’re thinking of washing your hands of politics, that’s a dangerous path for all of us. As reported in the New York Review of Books in 2014 :

Johannes Fest could never forgive Thomas Mann for writing Reflections of an Unpolitical Man (1918). Mann’s notion of the Bildungsbürger was that he should stay away from politics, which was a sordid business, unworthy of a civilized humanist. Most members of his class would have agreed. Johannes Fest did not. Mann’s prejudice, [Fest] maintained, had done more to alienate the bourgeoisie from the Weimar Republic than Hitler. By turning away from politics, the educated elite in Germany had made it easier for demagogues to monopolize politics to their own ghastly ends.

Democracies are fragile. Devote more of your money to pro-citizen legislators, get more of your friends and associates to do the same, and make sure the candidates you support walk their talk.

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