Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
The Presidential primary season has never seemed less relevant to ordinary Americans.
As the Mitt Romney juggernaut moves through New Hampshire and South Carolina, the sense that voters, even in early primary states, have anything at all to say about the eventual outcome of the elections is rapidly diminishing.
"This will be the most spending, in 2012, that we've ever seen in the history of the country--and even the world," Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy said in a telephone conference with reporters today. Thanks to the Supreme Court's two-year-old Citizens United decision, most of that spending, she added, is "dark money"--money spent by shadowy groups in order to influence the outcome of elections.
"It's swift-boat on steroids," Graves quipped.
No wonder Americans have trouble mustering much enthusiasm for the process.
But even as the presidential primary carnival devolves into more of a sideshow than ever this year, citizens' groups are mobilizing unprecedented political energy to combat the hijacking of our democracy by corporate cash.
United For the People, a coalition of public interest groups, is launching series of public events next week to mobilize opposition to Citizens United, and pressure Congress to amend the Constitution and enshrine in law the principle that corporations are not people and unlimited spending is not equivalent to political speech.
A week of events protesting the second anniversary of Citizens United will include:
January 18: The "Amend 2012" campaign, launched by Common Cause, which will put voter instruction measures on state ballots to get state governments and members of Congress to adopt an amendment that corporations are not people.
January 20: A large demonstration at the U.S. Supreme Court by Occupy the Courts, organized by Move to Amend, plus actions by 75 local and regional groups.
January 21: Protests targeting Bank of America with posters reading "I am a Person" by Occupy the Corporations, organized by Public Citizen.
January 24: Members of Congress will take part in a panel discussion in Washington, DC, on different versions of an anti-Citizens United amendment, sponsored by People for the American Way.
United For the People, a coalition of about 50 public-interest, religious, and progressive groups, is also launching a year-long push to get Congress to vote for a constitutional amendment stating that corporations are not people, and money is not speech.
There's even a funny YouTube video.
"People need to stand up with us and get these resolutions passed in their communities, to talk to their Congresspeople and find out what their position is and publish that widely. But really, what's most important is we need to get together and get more organized," Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, national field director for Move to Amend, says in a more serious, and informative, video: Citizens United v. FEC--what it means for democracy.
"Thousands of activists and concerned Americans across the country are taking a stand and declaring that our democracy should respond to the needs of the 99% – and is not for sale to the highest bidder," People for the American Way declared in a statement announcing the kick-off for next week's events.
With Mitt Romney's Super PAC outspending the candidate himself in Iowa, and a host of shadowy groups poised to outspend all of the candidates in the rest of the campaign, the effort could not be more timely.
Allowing corporations and CEOs to use unlimited money to amplify their voices "is going to dilute and distort our voices," Graves pointed out in the United for the People press call today.
Doug Clopp of Common Cause reinforced that point, with an anecdote about corporate influence on the Citizens United decision itself:
The pro-Citizens United Koch brothers hosted a luxury retreat attended by justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas just prior to the Citizens United decision.
"We are concerned about how Supreme Court justices conduct their affairs off the bench," Clopp said. That issue will be part of the Occupy the Courts action January 21.
Earlier this year, Common Cause attacked another high-profile Supreme Court ethics violation:
Hours after considering whether to hear challenges to constitutionality of national health care reform, the group reported.
Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia appeared at a Federalist Society fundraiser where they delivered speeches and were honored by the libertarian group--and hobnobbed with sponsoring law firms and their clients who are directly involved in the health care litigation.
It can seem overwhelming to tackle the oligarchy that seems to control political debate and public policy in our country.
That's why citizens' efforts like United for the People are so important, and inspiring.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Tommy Thompson's Secret Talks with Walker."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter