Monday, July 15, 2013

The Zimmerman Acquittal Is a Symptom of a Pervasive Disease in Politics: Money

The Zimmerman Acquittal Is a Symptom of a Pervasive Disease in Politics: Money

I’m going a bit off topic today to talk about the Treyvon Martin case and some of the unfavorable developments in state government, especially in North Carolina.  This post, however, draws on one of the huge problems of money management and Wall Street.  Campaign money has made effective regulation, capital requirements, and tax policy nearly impossible to achieve.  Many of the same donors have been hard at work in states electing politicians who are enacting laws that undermine our faith in state government.

Deal Review (2010)

A lot of progressive folks are seething over the Treyvon Martin case.  They are outraged that a defendant could be acquitted for killing an unarmed black teenager.  While race may have played a role in George Zimmerman’s pursuit of Treyvon Martin, the source of the verdict was campaign money.  Back in 2005, the “Stand Your Ground” defense passed the Florida State Senate 39-0, and the State House 94-20.  While Republicans sponsored the bill and controlled both houses of the legislature, Democrats lent support to the bill.  It seems the National Rifle Association was the chief proponent behind the legislation and delivered large amounts of campaign cash to Florida’s representatives in the years leading up the enacted of Section 776.013 of Title XLVI of the Florida statutes.

The statute was specifically designed to provide defendants like George Zimmerman with a nearly iron-clad defense.  In other words, the Florida law worked just as the legislature intended, and just as critics feared it would.  After “Stand Your Ground” got its initial foothold in Florida, the NRA got the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative non-profit organization, to push similar legislation in dozens of states.

Here in North Carolina, we’re seeing the same forces at work pushing everything from the right to carry concealed weapons on university campuses to new restrictions on abortion.  Closer to my realm of expertise, our legislature has cut extended unemployment benefits, failed to expand Medicaid (despite readily available federal dollars), and enacted exploitative consumer finance laws.  All these efforts have one thing in common: campaign money.  Both in-state and out-of-state groups have bankrolled the elected representatives who are driving an agenda that is undermining the wellbeing of our North Carolina.  The New York Times editorial board got it right when they wrote about the “Decline of North Carolina.[1]

Besides money, there’s another element at work.  These various legislative initiatives, from “Stand Your Ground” in Florida to the motorcycle/abortion clinic bill[2] in North Carolina have been enacted without an honest debate.  Proponents of these initiatives tell us that these proposals promote virtues like freedom and safety.  I wish they’d just tell us that don’t like people of color, Hispanic immigrants, poor people, gay folks, or whomever else they’re afraid of instead of dressing up their bills in phony principles.  For example, North Carolina’s newly expanded consumer loan bill isn’t about consumer choice as the proponents suggest, anymore than the abortion bill is about protecting women’s health.  In the case of the consumer loan bill, it is a legislative sanction to trap more working poor in perpetual debt.

The Treyvon Martin case put the jury in an unconscionable position.  We are country built on the rule of law, and from what I can tell the jury followed the law, albeit a terrible one.  However for many, the verdict profoundly undermined their belief in justice.  Until we seriously address the role of money in our politics, we are going to get bad laws that continue to erode the ability of our government to operate competently and deliver something resembling public services and a sense of justice. 

[2] The NC House of Representatives appended the abortion bill to legislation on motorcycles.

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