Behold, the American political monopoly

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COMMENTARY: In a word, corporate monopolies are awful for consumers. Aside from the obvious outcome of setting higher prices, they are nasty in numerous other ways.

Max Mastellone

Courtesy photo

Max Mastellone

By limiting competition, they artificially restrict our choices and reduce the incentive to maintain quality, because well, if we are the only game in town, “SOL.” Think Comcast.

Limited competition also tends to suppress product and service innovation, so we get to overpay for aged products or technologies long after improved versions show up elsewhere. One salient example is the more expensive, far slower internet speeds we must live with compared with our European counterparts. Monopolies lead to reduced consumer satisfaction and give customers reason to believe that they are being bullied or exploited.

Although rarely discussed, political monopolies also exist and are similarly bad for “consumers of government,” i.e. citizens. This may be a new concept for many but it is entirely appropriate to view the U.S. two party political system as a duopoly — that is, a monopoly by two parties that share near total control of the American political “marketplace.”

The Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee are private, nonprofit corporations organized under Section 527 of the IRS Code. This means that all donations that they receive are tax-exempt. Essentially, they are subsidized by the taxpayers. The arrangement is identical to what we know as “corporate welfare,” wherein private corporations with vast wealth, for some incomprehensible but untouchable reason, are the beneficiaries of government — that is, our — largess in the form of subsidies, tax breaks and other creative accounting measures.

Being in the unique position of accounting for all but two seats in America’s legislative body, the Democrats and Republicans in Congress literally get to write laws that affect the operation of their parties. Over the years, through their presence in Congress and state legislatures, the parties have passed legislation that formalizes, protects and supports their monopoly.

Essentially, those laws make it extremely difficult for other political parties to challenge the duopoly. The RNC and DNC enjoy what can only be considered a legal monopoly over the U.S. political system. And this has been accomplished without regard for the wishes of the American people.

Collusion

One of the parties’ greatest successes — perhaps scam would be a better word — came in 1974 when they passed “campaign reform” legislation. The law authorized funding of their presidential campaigns and dramatically solidified their monopoly. Remember the little check-off box on your 1040 tax return asking if you agree to assign $3 of your refund to the presidential campaign? That is where the money comes from. The law established the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, which provided matching funds to eligible candidates, only from the two parties for their primary races. The presidential nominee from each party was then given a sizeable grant to run their general election campaigns.

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Public funding of elections is a worthwhile idea in principle, and quite popular. However, when it is created, controlled and corrupted by the very parties that benefit from it, that’s a different matter. A third party presidential candidate would qualify for some public funds if their party had achieved five percent of the vote in the previous presidential election, a standard that would be rarely reached due to other unfriendly rules and regulations.

Substantial funding would also be given to these private political party organizations to pay for their presidential nominating conventions! Public money given to private organizations to throw huge parties to which we are not invited. For over 30 years this gravy train rolled on, until candidates started refusing the public money because it came with too many strings, while private money has none; and because for a few reasons, we the people stopped checking that little box.

The monopolistic joint venture known as the Commission on Presidential Debates was created by the DNC and RNC in 1987 as an independent nonprofit corporation. The CPD receives private funding from foundations and corporations, with the vast majority of its money coming from just a handful of donors. The presidential debates held in 1976, 1980 and 1984 were sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

But as Wikipedia recounts, “In 1988, the League of Women Voters withdrew its sponsorship of the presidential debates after the George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis campaigns secretly agreed to a “memorandum of understanding” that would decide which candidates could participate in the debates, which individuals would be panelists (and therefore able to ask questions), and the height of the lecterns. The League rejected the demands and released a statement saying that it was withdrawing support for the debates because “the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter.”

Taking control of the presidential debates from an organization that tried to preserve fairness and objectivity was a clear move demonstrating cooperation between the parties, with the goal of further ensuring the exclusion of candidates from other parties in the debates. There can be no more blatant sign of collusion between the Democrats and Republicans, parties that arrogantly continue to pretend that they are rivals.

To tighten their shared lock on the nominating process even more, in 2000 the CPD implemented a rule requiring that a candidate must achieve 15 percent popular support in five national polls to be included in a national presidential debate. A high bar indeed. Bottom line, these exclusionary practices prevent people with new and creative ideas from entering government.

Is it a coincidence that, each in their own way, the two parties suppressed voting during the 2016 election cycle? The Republicans did it through gerrymandering and voter ID laws, the Democrats through serious mischief at some of their state conventions, registration and vote tampering in some primaries, and the elected delegate-nullifying superdelegate system — these last designed to eliminate Bernie Sanders as a contender.

Overall, the behavior of the two parties closely parallels the collusion observed among corporations when they conspire to fix prices, control markets and smash startup competitors.

What now?

Corporations make no claim to be democratic institutions. When government permits itself to be influenced by corporations or oligopolies (a handful of businesses that dominate a market sector), it is knowingly acceding to hear policy recommendations that are incompatible with democratic tenets.

Since the founding of our nation there has lived a concern within our political culture that excessive concentration of economic power will engender anti-democratic political pressures. Each U.S. administration makes a conscious decision on whether corporate input is or is not welcome. One indicator of this is how zealously an administration pursues anti-trust enforcement. You may already be aware that such enforcement has been exceedingly lax since the Reagan years.

You would be correct to wonder how the decidedly anti-democratic behavior of the RNC/DNC political monopoly can be expected to do a 180 and govern in a frankly democratic vein. Be assured that they cannot. And that is because they work in close coordination with the oligarchs whose money allows their monopoly position to go on virtually unmolested. One hand washes the other.

The American people have long known that Congress is bought and corrupt. They now need to know more specifically that behind that is the institutional corruption and collusion of the two political parties. That is the truthful answer to why, through 40 years and three Democratic and three Republican administrations, Americans have been unable to elect a government that attends to their needs. The political monopoly will simply not permit that to happen.

When government is not there for us, what recourse do we have? When it has denied us the normal channels of redress, what are our options? For some time now our government has not been by, for, or of us, the people. We must make our democratic demands by asserting the power of our numbers. We must stop being obedient. Repeatedly disrupt their business as usual. Disrupt the normal flow of their dollars. Become and remain unmanageable.

The 1 percent/RNC-DNC cabal has abused us long enough. We are done with that!

Max Mastellone is a long-time activist and a Las Cruces resident. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? NMPolitics.net welcomes your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.

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