Occupy Wall Street Needs to Occupy Washington

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Occupy Wall Street Needs to Occupy WashingtonOn Wall Street and far beyond, crowds of people are occupying city spaces, enraged by the status quo. One thing that most agree on is that corporations are wielding too much influence in government -- and we need to change that. I also agree.

Among the grievances set forth by Occupy Wall Street's General Assembly are these:

  • [Companies] determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
  • [Companies] have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
Companies certainly influence economic policy, and it's a plain fact that they contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to political candidates and parties. The fact that their contributions have continued -- and even increased over time -- suggests that they're getting something for that money.

Indeed, in 2010, $3.5 billion was spent on lobbying by corporations (and some associations, such as unions), more than twice as much as a decade ago. At OpenSecrets.org, you can see who's giving what to whom, and among the biggest political donors you'll see familiar names such as AT&T (T), Goldman Sachs (GS), Citigroup (C), United Parcel Service (UPS), Altria (MO), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), and Microsoft (MSFT).

A Cleaner, More Radical Solution to the Problem

It's good that people are becoming more aware of the level of financial fawning corporations are doing on Capitol Hill. It's good to see proposals that want to reduce the amount that companies can contribute to politicians.

Sorry to say, that's not going to cut it. I'd like to take it further than that. Here's a question I posed nearly a decade ago:

Why are corporations permitted to contribute even one dollar to politicians?

It's Government of, by, and for the People, Not Corporations

I'm not against capitalism. Just as our American form of democracy can be a beautiful thing, with checks and balances in place to prevent trouble, so, too, can capitalism be a beautiful thing -- with its own limits. Just as religion can operate and thrive in a nation whose founders believed in the principal of separation of church and state, companies can operate and thrive in a nation that separates business and state.

As Abraham Lincoln reminded us, our government is "of the people, by the people, for the people." It was never designed to be of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations. And yet, that is what we are becoming.

It's hard to imagine that this country would allow corporations to vote in governmental elections. So why are they permitted to spend millions and even billions to influence our elections and laws? Why are they allowed to spend even a single dollar on that?

It's Not Even Their Money to Contribute

Another problem with companies making political contributions is that the money they contribute isn't theirs. It belongs to their shareholders, who are rarely consulted about contributions.

As far as the argument that companies influence government in order to boost their businesses and thereby benefit shareholders, that may be true, but it isn't necessarily true that companies should be able to go to such extremes. A tobacco company shouldn't be able to stop the government from regulating it for the citizens' benefit, nor should banks be able to fight reforms aimed to help consumers.

Excess corporate cash should be spent building or sustaining the business, or should otherwise go to the shareholders, via dividends, share buybacks, and the like.

If companies have cases they want to make to governing officials, they should do so with logic, not dollars. A gaming company, for example, might posit to politicians that more casinos will boost the economy. The politicians should be able to weigh such a case against any other, and to take into account what their constituents want and what's best for them and the nation. There should be no dollar signs in the politicians' eyes, hoping for continued support from the lobbying corporation.

It's Time to Occupy Washington

While Wall Street is indeed a symbol of much that has gone wrong, in some ways it's hard to argue with a company doing what it legally can in order to better its position.

Our best hope for change is not for companies to see the error of their ways and reform themselves, but for our representatives to hear the people and to change the rules so that companies cannot contribute anything to politicians or influence elections.

I'm inspired by the folks occupying Wall Street and elsewhere. I hope that the protesters turn their eyes to Washington. It's all up to us. The protesters have begun something important, and those who agree with them need to take action, too.

Consider joining the occupation, and share your thoughts with your representatives and your local newspaper, too.

We can have a much stronger nation and future if we put some effort into it. Capitalism may well thrive more when there's a stronger separation of business and state. It's a modest proposal -- let's outlaw a common evil for the common good.

Longtime Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of JPMorgan Chase and Microsoft, but she holds no other position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Citigroup, United Parcel Service, Microsoft, Altria Group, and JPMorgan Chase. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of AT&T and Microsoft, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft.



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savemycountry911

AOL is locking me out. Here is my last song. No cheering libs.

I hear the lib train comin. It's comin round the bend.
I ain't seen so much stupid since I don't know when.
Obama's stuck on Socialism and the waste goes on.
We'll oust him next election and we'll send him home.
(Kenya, Chicago, his 57the state? We don't care.)
His Hope and Change fiasco, now it was just a lie.
When libs find out he's goin, they'll hand their heads and cry.

Tissue?

October 21 2011 at 8:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Setanta

so....did everybody go down to zoooocotti in time for friday prayers under the direction of CAIR ? why or why not komrads ? ..........This Friday, the Council on American Islamic Relations New York Chapter (CAIR-NY) would like to invite you and your organization to join us for Jummah at Occupy Wall Street this Friday, October 21st...................

October 21 2011 at 3:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tevroc143

OWS should continue to protest Wall Street and Washington. Both are the problem!

We the people must use our money wisely if we want to change the way things are in this crony capitalism. First, pull your money out of these TOO BIG TO FAIL banks and put it in small commercial banks and credit unions. Then start shopping locally. Stop eating out at these corporate owned restaurants - the crap is killing you anyway. The more money you spend in your own community, the more you help yourselves. It can cost a little more, but once you stop eating crappy fast food so much, you will have more money to spend in the locally owned supermarket and farmer's market. You will cut off your money which is feeding the beast and be healthier for it.

We the people have got to start voting more by the millions. Our grandparents never missed an opportunity to vote and we are still stuck with the same men they voted in office. I won't let Grandpa drive me down the street, and men his same age are making up these ridiculous laws. Since politicians refuse to term limit themselves, it is up to the people to vote them out of office. The younger generation is not tied to any political party and neither should the rest of us be. The left - right party was put in place to divide and conquer the people. While you are all lost in some viewpoint you have been taught to stand for, they are laughing at your ignorance. Nothing changes this way. First we should start with age of the politician because they have made a career of ******* on the dole and are the most influenced by lobbyist who have made them rich. Vote them out and send them home to live under their ridiculous laws. Then every election cycle send home the new one until they all realize none of them will ever be allowed to become entrenched in power. If we do this money will not be able to continue to buy our politicians. The ones with the most money are the ones Wall Street is backing. Vote for the other one!

October 21 2011 at 3:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Robert Leonetti

MR OBAMA, PLEASE, FOR THE SAKE OF WHAT IS LEFT OF OUR GREAT COUNTRY, STEP DOWN. YOU ARE SO FAR OVER YOUR HEAD. YOU BAIL OUTS MADE IT WORST, YOU COMMENTA ARE CAUSING CLASS WARS, ........ YOU GAVE IT YOUR BEST SHOT BUT YOU ARE SO FAR FROM BEING QUALIFIED, IF YOU DON'T STEP DOWN IT IS GOING TO GET WORSE AND WORSE. IF YOU LOVE AMERICA, GET OUT OF THE WAY FOR SOME COMPETENT LEADERS.

October 21 2011 at 12:38 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Robert Leonetti's comment
dabrownman

Marxists posing as socialists don't step down. They usually have to pulled out of sewer pipes by the masses that have turned over time to hate them in violent ways, like a Qaddafi Doll. We just have to wait until November 2012 and vote this Jive Turkey out with his band of Marxists posing a Socialist in the House and Senate,

October 21 2011 at 1:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hello Gary B

Its time to get rid of all the career criminals (politician's) in Washington ! 8 years max for politician's in Washington. Let the people vote on who get the bail outs its our money. Its we the people not me the politician they all work for us. Close our borders and bring back our jobs from overseas. NAFTA was the down fall of American jobs plain and simple. This election is a joke all the canadate's just chop each other down and not a word about what's going to be done nothing to clean up this Obama spending spree!! Wise up America pull your money out of bank of America and send a massage stop F***ing digging in my pockets. It will send a massage to the Banking world we have the power to bring them to there knees !!!

October 21 2011 at 10:43 AM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Hello Gary B's comment
LEE Resolution

And now we have 'Plugs' Biden's public hysteria warning us that unless Obama's job bill is passed, crime will become rampant in the nation.

October 21 2011 at 9:09 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to LEE Resolution's comment
dabrownman

No. Biden said rapes, having guns held to your head and murder would increase. That is just how I feel after 5 years of lefties controlling congress since 2006 and the presidency since 2008. Obama and the Marxists posing as socialists have held a gun to the head of the USA, raped it over and over again until it died from too much spending

October 21 2011 at 2:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
docmetcalf1955

idiots the problem is the current regime, they ruined the economy

October 21 2011 at 9:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
timouesia

One thing that must be organized is to get rid of every politician in Washington especially those who have made it their career living as free-loaders off the American people. Let them understand that NAFTA has to go because it is not working as they said it would. Our products aren't doing well overeas but our jobs are. Have this "ELITE????" side talking bunch start cracking down harder on employers who are hiring non-US citizens. This might get some of OUR jobs back. Get rid of the Electoral voting system and go back to when the popular votes counted. This way Washington will understand--We hired them and we certainly can FIRE them. They work for us and not the other way around. Also, why aren't we asked for our input when the big decisions need to be made. Is it because we are not smart enough to know what is right/good for our country??? There are enough people in this nation that are fed up with where our nation is heading. Why not protest on Wall Street and Washington? They've taken out jobs, discussing taking the unemployment benefits away, and making secret (behind closed doors) budget cuts that will effect even more of us, so I'm sure that even more of us will eventually have more time on our hands!!!!!!

October 21 2011 at 8:22 AM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
kaldor22

I believe the protest Wall street should not go to Washington. It is about time to bring the protests directly to Wall Street and the multi national companies that are responsible for creating the problems facing our country. We can not expect any change if those responsible are allowed to hide behind the politicians whose campaigns they finance.

October 21 2011 at 6:19 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to kaldor22's comment
LEE Resolution

business is no more responsible for creating problems in America than those who run them.

You're really shy on your economics, professor.

October 21 2011 at 9:06 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
dabrownman

Too much cool aid will turn your brain into mush, which while horrible, it is way better than what has happened to the Marxists posing as socialists who are protesting on wall street..

October 21 2011 at 3:04 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Setanta

LISTEN UP ! along with family nite ! CAIR will arrive at 1PM for friday prayers !!!!!!!!!!! make sure you have your prayer rug and REPEAT AFTER THEM !

October 21 2011 at 1:16 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply