As a second-year dual-degree candidate for the master of public policy and the master of public health, I have been working closely with Berkeley vs. Big Soda since May. Along with our parent organization, the Berkeley Healthy Child Coalition, we have been campaigning for Measure D. If passed, Measure D will impose a penny-per-ounce tax on the distribution of drinks with added caloric sugar, the right first step for Berkeley in its efforts to ameliorate the damage that the beverage industry is doing to our communities. Our coalition is grassroots, comprised of parents, educators, public health advocates and every elected official in the city of Berkeley. The beverage industry, as of this writing, has already outspent us 7-to-1 for an approximate total of $1.7 million dollars or approximately $20 per projected vote in this election — and they are nowhere close to done. I call on every reader to join me in supporting Measure D and to send a message to those with money and power that they cannot buy our votes, continuing undeterred despite their harmful actions.
Of course, Big Money has always been in American politics. Big Money’s insidious nature and subversive control in our era date back to a 1971 memo written by soon-to-be supreme court justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. upon the request of his friend, Eugene Sydnor of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In his memo, Powell expressed near-paranoid delusions of leftist warfare on American enterprise, emanating primarily from academia, he reasoned. With his framework, he encouraged corporate executives to eschew social responsibility and substitute aggressive, pro-business political action to counter the leftist movement. According to Powell, interest groups, such as labor unions and consumer groups, were “self-interest” groups, and he called upon business leaders to create countervailing “interest” groups, leveraging their collective resources to overcome any political opposition to businesses’ desires. While Powell certainly was not the only influence on how Big Money has trampled our electoral system in the last four decades, many scholars point to his memo as the blueprint that fiscal, pro-business and pro-Big Money conservatives have used ever since.
Flash forward to October 2014, and we can see how Big Money influences every aspect of American politics and, by extension, civil life today. Both major political parties accept so-called Dark Money — undisclosed donations from wealthy and powerful individuals and corporations — though Republicans benefit from the largesse disproportionately more than Democrats. “Mother Jones” projects that Dark Money will account for up to $1 billion of political spending in the 2014 midterm elections alone. In 2010 and 2014, in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, respectively, the Supreme Court vastly expanded the ability of the uber rich to spend their fortunes on buying elections for their “self-interests.” Groups such as Common Cause, chaired by Chancellor’s Professor Robert Reich of the Goldman School of Public Policy, call for solutions, such as a constitutional amendment limiting Big Money in politics or a “People’s Pledge” in which candidates voluntarily refuse Big Money and Dark Money: an approach that worked in the Senate race between Senator Elizabeth Warren and former senator Scott Brown. I fully support these solutions, but given the political gridlock in Washington, D.C. and the (un)civil discourse currently permeating American society, writ large, an amendment seems impossible, and a candidate-by-candidate pledge seems like placing a few bandage strips over an otherwise huge, gushing wound. What groups such as Common Cause need is a social movement that supports their call to action.
On Nov. 4, let us take a lesson from our fore-scholars of some 50 years ago and let the hegemony know, unequivocally, that we are done. When the country awakens on Nov. 5, with all precincts reporting, Berkeley voters can sound their clarion call — “Remember, remember the fifth of November” — and send a shockwave of cortisol through the bloodstreams of every occupant of every boardroom and corporate suite in America. From that day hence, corporate power brokers will always know that they have their limits and that they cannot act with impunity against our interests and those of our neighbors while expecting us to lie down and take it. We will rise and move forward, and if they obstruct our path in any way, we will push, kick and claw our way though. Our time is now, and we have had enough! Join me in sending a message to power that the buck stops here in Berkeley and at UC Berkeley. If we cannot take them down when they are staring us in the face, then how do we ever expect to defeat them when they seek refuge in the shadows of Dark Money? Vote “yes” on Measure D!
Justin Patrick Jones, MA, is a policy advocate interested in shifting the paradigm of Big Money in politics toward the promise of a government for the people and by the people.