3 Columns by Jim Hightower

Governors Are Stiffing Workers —and Democracy

The governors of many states are boldly stepping forward these days to stop grassroots democracy.

Yes, noting that local citizens and officials have been passing local laws to govern themselves, a flock of right-wing governors are asserting an autocratic power called “state preemption” to overrule democratic decisions made by locals.

Why do these governors hate democracy? Because their corporate funders don’t like some of the laws local people support.

This isn’t a matter of a rogue governor here or there, but a coordinated effort by corporate interests to get governors to usurp local authority. The main coordinator of this power grab is ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

In 2014, when Fight for $15, and other activist groups began winning city campaigns for minimum wage hikes, ALEC responded by holding a corporate forum on how state officials can stop such local actions. ALEC circulated a model bill called the “Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act” — and sure enough, it’s already been passed by nearly half of our states.

Ohio was the latest. By a large margin, people in the Buckeye State favor raising the wage floor, and Cleveland enacted its own increase last year. But a small group of corporate profiteers howled in fury.

So, last December, the state’s Republican leaders rushed to appease them by adopting the ALEC preemption bill and ramming it into law. It was a political mugging of the people’s will, retroactively negating Cleveland’s increase and outlawing increases by any other locality in the state.

Used sparingly and properly, preemption can be a democracy-enhancing tool to serve the common good. But when governors pervert this power to use it as a cudgel against the people, We the People must rise up against the governors.

Democracy Outbreak in Ohio (2012)

One small town is standing up to deep-pocketed campaign cash.

Some scrappy citizens in the burg of Brecksville, Ohio produced one of the proudest progressive victories on Election Day.

Organized under the banner of Brecksville Citizens for Transparent Politics, they decided they needed to speak out about the U.S. Supreme Court’s outrageous edicts that allow unlimited sums of corporate cash to secretly flood America’s elections.

These determined citizens collected signatures for a local ballot initiative in their small town of around 14,000. The measure called for a U.S. constitutional amendment “to establish that corporations are not people and money is not speech.”

A couple of states and dozens of cities proposed similar initiatives this year, but Brecksville’s unique proposal added a useful bit of oomph. If passed, it would require city officials to designate one day in February for the next 10 years as “Democracy Day,” on which the mayor would host a citywide hearing about how the surge of campaign money was affecting the city. After the hearing, the mayor must send a letter to the legislature and Congress proclaiming the citizens’ opposition to corporate electioneering.

Mayor Jerry Hruby, however, balked at this outbreak of democracy, saying it required the city to take an official position on a federal issue outside its jurisdiction. He went to the board of elections to disqualify it from the November ballot — but the board deadlocked, and the matter went to Ohio’s secretary of state.

To the mayor’s surprise, this Republican office broke the tie in favor of the citizens. Then the mayor appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, where, finally, with barely a month to go, a 5-2 majority of the judges ruled that the people’s proposal was legit.

Completing this triumph of citizens’ perseverance, 52 percent of Brecksvillians proudly voted the initiative into law on Election Day. See, it is possible to fight city hall and win.

August 9, 2017

Turning Churches into Super PACs

A bogus campaign for “religious freedom” could create unholy temples of dark money.

You know what’s wrong with American politics? It’s that there just aren’t enough ways for giant corporations and mega-rich political donors to funnel their big bucks into our elections and buy our government.

At least that’s what Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and a devious group of right-wing political pastors are saying. And, of course, they’ve got a diabolical fix for this “problem.”

Their scheme is to turn tax-exempt, far-right churches into gushing sewers of political money, secretly channeling unlimited amounts of cash from corporations and right-wing extremists through the churches and into the campaigns of politicians who’ll do their bidding.

They don’t admit this, of course. Instead, they wrap their scheme in the pious rhetoric of religious freedom.

Their point of attack is the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law passed by LBJ that prohibits tax-exempt charities, including churches, from endorsing candidates, funding campaigns, and directly engaging in politics.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, an extremist Christian operation pushing for repeal of the Johnson amendment, asserts that banning churches from overt political campaigning lets the IRS “tell pastors what they can and cannot preach.”

Clever, but totally dishonest.

First, the issue isn’t whether the government can tell church groups what to say — it can’t. The question is whether taxpayers should subsidize a church group’s electioneering views and activities.

Second, and more diabolically, repealing the Johnson ban would turn these churches into holy temples of dark money. Special-interest funders would rush to these political “charities,” turning churches into super-secret super PACs. And since churches are tax exempt, the donors would also be blessed with a tax deduction for their corrupting campaign contributions!

Taxpayers would be underwriting the corruption of American politics. How ungodly is that?

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also the editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

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By Jim Hightower

Guest Columnist

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