A “D” beside a politician's name doesn't necessarily mean they're fighting for the public's interests. In fact, 13 Democratic members of Congress recently joined Republicans in voting to protect private equity and hedge funds. This vote demonstrates the corrupting force of money in politics. If the media were doing a better job, it would be a national scandal.
Democrats like these need to be encouraged to find new jobs. But don’t expect the party establishment to do it. In fact, one of these 13 representatives is running in the Florida Senate primary as the Democratic National Committee’s hand-picked candidate.
Patrick Murphy, a fiscal conservative and former Republican, has been a favorite of the DNC since he first switched parties to run for Congress. Since then Murphy has voted to establish the committee investigating Benghazi, supported the Keystone XL pipeline, and backed a Republican-sponsored bill to weaken the already-inadequate Affordable Care Act.
As members of the House Financial Services Committee, the “Hedge Fund 13" all voted for a Wall Street-backed bill with an Orwellian name: the “Investment Advisers Modernization Act.” (The word “modernization," like “innovation,” is frequently used by Wall Streeters as a euphemism for giving free rein to greed.)
The bill wouldn't modernize anything. Instead, it would remove investment funds from virtually all regulatory oversight. Since the Securities and Exchange Commission has barely used the authority it has been given, this is a disastrous move in the wrong direction – a gift to some of Wall Street’s wealthiest and most mendacious denizens (a dubious distinction in that part of town).
As Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism points out, the bill these Democrats voted for “would considerably weaken protections meant to stop Madoff-type frauds, and leave retail investors exposed."
Progressives must do more than just fight the racism, nativism, and economic numbskullery of the Republicans – a syndrome of which Donald Trump is merely the most naked example. They must not hesitate to fight the corrupting influence of big money in politics wherever it appears.
That means identifying with a movement, rather than a political party. Some of the movement’s members may choose to work in the Democratic Party, as Bernie Sanders did this year. Many are registered Democrats. But progressives should inhabit the party the way the Bible tells believers to inhabit the world: in it, but not of it. Democrats who serve the moneyed interests shouldn’t be exempt from criticism and challenge. Party affiliation shouldn’t lead to automatic loyalty.
The progressive movement should be fueled by a thirst for social and economic justice. It must keep fighting to break up the big banks and enact a 21st century Glass-Steagall Act. It must strive to close for-profit prisons and end the racist stain of mass incarceration. It must call for a just, humane, and peaceful foreign policy.
Votes like this one, which betray the movement's fundamental values, must have consequences.
Defenders will argue that some of these 13 Democrats represent conservative districts. But conservative voters dislike Wall Street corruption, too. This wasn’t a nod to home-district voters. It was a favor for Wall Street donors.
Others will argue that they need Wall Street's money to win re-election. But there is a growing army of activists waiting to reward insurgents. They will vote, volunteer, and donate (very possibly in $27 increments).
As long as the corrupting influence of big money dominates the political process, party leaders and machine politicians will be tempted to serve wealthy contributors at the public's expense. They’ll do it every time the public’s isn’t watching. That’s why they can’t be allowed to get away with it.
This vote also demonstrates why Citizens United, and the other court rulings that have subverted democracy, must be overturned. Our corrupted electoral system must be replaced by publicly funded elections.
Until then, we will continue to see this kind of legalized corruption. Until then, our best option is to confront politicians like these – with primaries, protests, and open criticism.
And speaking of primaries: Nearly 6,700 Bernie Sanders supporters have indicated that they’re willing to run for office at the state or local level as part of the “political revolution.” Not all of these potential candidates will be congressional material yet, of course, but surely some will.
If things don't change, I can think of at least 13 districts where they might be put to good use next time around.
Meet the “Hedge Fund 13” – and their financial-sector money:
• Patrick Murphy (Fla.) - $1,413,950
• Jim Himes (Conn.) - $618,150
• Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) - $589,388
• Ed Perlmutter- (Colo.) - $455,157
• Bill Foster (Ill.) - $401,935
• Terri Sewell (Ala.)- $379,400
• David Scott (Ga.) - $368,640
• John Delaney (Md.) - $351,750
• Gregory Meeks (N.Y.) - $338,550
• Brad Sherman (Calif.) - $300,750
• Juan Vargas (Calif.) - $247,549
• Joyce Beatty (Ohio) - $225,050
• John Carney (Del.) - $164,450