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Fixing democracy: Addressing big money in politics

Written by Wendell Potter

What can we do to fix our democracy? We need to be out there advocating for reform.  Among other things, we need to get big money out of politics and health care. It’s corrosive.

In Deadly Spin, my first book, I described having an epiphany a few years ago when I witnessed thousands of people—people who could have been relatives or former neighbors—standing in long lines, in the rain, waiting to get medical care in barns and animal stalls at a county fairgrounds near where I grew up in Tennessee. I was head of corporate communications for one of the country’s biggest health insurers at the time. I realized that what I did for a living was helping to perpetuate a status quo in American health care that benefited a few at the expense of millions of others.

I was so shaken by what I saw that day in 2007 that I left my job a few months later and became a vocal critic of my former industry and an advocate for reform.

I had a second epiphany two years later when it became abundantly clear to me that we would never achieve the reforms we need until we address an even more fundamental problem: the corrosive effect of big money in politics.  My fellow reform advocates and I were disheartened time and again when rich special interests, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries in particular, were able to kill important consumer protections in the reform legislation that they thought might adversely affect profits. (Read here about how members of Congress have a stake in pharmaceutical and device companies they regulate; and here about how federal policy promotes high drug prices.)

That’s why I teamed up with Nick Penniman, a fellow former journalist, to write a new book: Nation on the Take; How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It. In it we describe how American democracy has become coin operated. How special interest groups increasingly control every level of government. We also link this legalized corruption to the kitchen-table issues all of us face every day. And we chart a way forward, toward the recovery of America’s original promise.

As we wrote in the book: “Democracy requires reinvention and constant vigilance. Like the Founders and the abolitionists, the suffragists and the civil rights activists, when we see a fundamental problem in our system, we fix it. That’s the American way. Now we need to fix democracy—before we can fix the other problems we all face.” You can now order the book online.

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1 Comment

  • You missed an opportunity.

    I read the article and I wanted to know what needs to be done, but instead you are selling a book. I already know that the Citizens United case ruined our democracy. It was planned that way. But with Congress so Red and full of Tea Party extremists we have no chance at reform.

    The teaching moment is to suggest we vote for Congressional representatives that favor campaign finance. We need a standard question, even a rating, on supporting campaign finance reform such as the gun lobby and the tax haters have their questions, ratings and pledges.

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