“Follow the money” is a fundamental principle for political reporters.
It means competent journalists look at who funds politicians, provides that information in relevant stories, and examines how politicians’ votes and statements compare to the agenda of their funders. On that criterion, nearly every news report on the recent filibuster of Senate voting rights legislation failed.
It’s not like the trail is camouflaged. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, perhaps the most powerful lobbying group in America, promoted its agenda publicly, decrying the threat of a responsive democracy and touting the filibuster to prevent it. The Chamber publicly lavished praise and cash upon Krysten Sinema and Joe Manchin, the two Democratic Senators who saved corporate America from the threat of majority rule. Without the filibuster, proposals broadly popular with the public, but anathema to many corporations—like a $15 minimum hourly wage and bans on corporate union-busting—could become law.
Finally, the Chamber warned all Senators that a vote to enable democracy will be punished on its scorecard, which tells who’s been naughty or nice in the eyes of multinational corporations.
When Manchin and Sinema professed their deep concern for bipartisanship or tradition to justify blocking voting rights protections, a few reporters showed appropriate skepticism (both Senators voted to suspend the filibuster just weeks earlier for spending bills). Yet reports on the filibuster vote from the largest media outlets neglected corporate influence entirely. The only reporting I found connecting Manchin and Sinema’s filibuster support to funding by fossil fuel interests, restaurant chains, and many other corporations was The Daily Poster, a reader-supported journalism startup.
To be clear, the Constitution's wealthy authors intended the Senate to protect powerful people from rapid populist pressure. Yet they couldn’t anticipate the later invention of filibusters turning their speed bump into a full roadblock. Nor could the founders foresee population growth that now gives Californians 1/68th as much Senate representation as residents of Wyoming, a state created a century after the Constitution.
Meanwhile, the people of Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, who outnumber the residents of several states, have no voting representation in Congress whatsoever. The whiteness and patriarchy prevalent in over-represented Plains and Northern Rockies states magnifies power imbalances.
While many corporations offer feel-good commercials promoting multiculturalism and equality, their political arms (like the Chamber) and political investments perpetuate the dominance of wealth over our elections and the public interest. Those of us who value democracy must remember the quest for voting rights and equality is inseparable from the imperative to revoke the power of corporations and money over our elections and government.
Democracy advocates lost a major battle this month when 52 Senators effectively voted to enable rampant voter suppression and election manipulation, but the struggle helped build a foundation for future victory, including 230+ civic organizations (including the UUA) uniting as Declaration for American Democracy, dedicated to advancing voting rights.
Many of us learned a sterilized history in which the United States progressed steadily from a white, wealthy, male electorate toward inclusive democracy. But in the entire history of our nation, just 11 Black people and 58 women have served as Senators. Hard-fought citizen victories have taken decades and are interspersed with setbacks, often—like today—at the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Long-term progress has come through rallying with new energy after each defeat to push further toward equality. May we be resolute in the struggle to create a truly democratic republic.