Political power, white supremacy, and white wealth have always intersected in America. Our nation’s founders made rules that ensured that white elites remained in power, as with the three-fifths clause, which entrenched southern wealthy elites’ outsized power to set limits to our democracy and our economy. The current wave of state-level voter suppression measures, combined with the Senate’s use of the filibuster – a procedural tool originally created to preserve Jim Crow – jeopardizes the franchise for millions of Black and Brown voters. Throughout our history, Wall Street has played an actively anti-democratic role in rigging our economy for wealthy male (largely white) elites. Because our economy and our politics are so closely linked, we have to unrig our politics in order to unrig our economy, so that all people can flourish.
Reckoning with Our History
White supremacy and wealth have always had a connected, outsized role in our political system: the “founding fathers” were wealthy, often slave-holding, white men creating a political system to entrench wealthy white minority rule. Though activism has forced the expansion of democratic participation over the years, this core structure has unfortunately stayed intact, enabling anti-democratic structures to continue to rig our democracy. To learn more about the moments in U.S. history where white supremacy and Wall Street have worked together to rig our economy, visit our interactive website isoureconomyfair.org.
Today, states across the country continue these schemes, through the use of voter suppression tactics in BIPOC communities, which include making access to the ballot more difficult for Black and Brown voters and the most deceptive and undemocratic trick in the book–gerrymandering, or the manipulation of congressional district boundaries to favor a specific party’s candidate.. Republicans are using gerrymandering to try to guarantee wins for the 2022 midterm election and future elections.These tactics disenfranchise millions of Americans and disregard their right to receive fair representation, especially for Black and Brown folks.
Money in Politics
A sometimes invisible but incredibly consequential rigging of our democracy, wealthy (largely white) elites and corporations pump money into politics to ensure the rules advantage them. The money is the lifeblood that funds white supremacist, capitalist politics. In 2010, the Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for large corporations to pour endless amounts of money into our elections, allowing the ultra-wealthy to control the political agenda.
From the wholesale deregulation of corporate America in the 1980s to the rise of the private equity industry, the rules have permitted corporations and the super rich to spend millions on Capitol Hill to extract billions from the rest of us. Between 1978 and 2020, CEO pay had skyrocketed 1,322%, with CEOs making 351 times as much as a typical worker. When the pandemic hit, low-wage workers, especially those of color, suffered the highest job loss rates while also suffering from the highest Covid-19 infection rates. While workers have endured job losses and COVID infections, the paycheck protection program funneled billions of public dollars to corporations, who gave it to their stockholders and increased their own salaries.
Abhorrent workplace conditions, oil refineries built in Black and Brown communities exploding because they weren’t properly regulated, Boeing airplanes that crash because the company spent all its money on stock buybacks instead of safety, bridges that fail because elites and corporations demand painfully low taxes, and an ever-longer workday for the rest of us are the inevitable result of this wholesale purchase of our democracy.
The January 6 Insurrection
Perhaps the most direct threat to our democracy is the continued support of insurrectionist lawmakers by Wall Street and the nation’s/country’s biggest corporations. They have made the calculation that the widespread purchase of financial deregulation and favorable laws for industry is simply more valuable to them than the orderly transfer of power and the sanctity of our votes. Then, as now, white supremacy functions to keep ultra-rich white men in control of the political and economic agenda, intentionally disregarding working families and their livelihoods. Our past and present reveal that white supremacy is the goal, and voter suppression and other anti-democracy tactics are part of the strategy to that end.
Revolving Door Between Wall Street and Washington
The financial industry’s extraordinary influence on our regulatory system was among the leading causes of the last financial crisis. Regulators had ample authority to act but lacked the political will to enforce laws. The revolving door between industry and government makes our agencies more susceptible to regulatory capture: when a regulatory agency advances commercial or political interests of the sector it is charged with regulating, instead of acting in the public interest. This dynamic puts our economy at risk of future crises and consumers at risk of stepped-up abuse by big banks. The financial industry rigs their own rules by awarding lavish bonuses to executives when they take positions in government where they will be in charge of regulating their former employers. For example, Trump administration NEC Chair Gary Cohn received a $100 million payout from Goldman Sachs for entering government, and Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson received $180 million from Exxon Mobil.
What we’re doing about it
Wall Street Money in Washington
Americans for Financial Reform has tracked the rise of Wall Street cash up the steps of Capitol Hill in recent years with its flagship Wall Street Money in Washington report. Each year, the finance industry has consistently been by far the largest source of campaign contributions of any industry. You can read AFR’s Wall Street Money in Washington reports from 2019-2020 and 2017-2018.
Congressional Voting Record: Where they stand on Financial Reform
As a companion piece to the deep dive into political cash, Americans for Financial Reform also publishes a voting record. The report tracks just who voted for bills pushed by the bank lobby that are dangerous for our financial stability, undermine consumer and investor protections, and enable racial discrimination in lending. The record is best read alongside the Wall Street Money in Washington report, so you can connect whose donations bought which piece of legislation. The easy reference tables allow you to look up a particular member, or see a list of members who voted to advance every single deregulatory bill out of nearly one hundred.
Declaration for American Democracy
Take On Wall Street is a member of the Declaration for American Democracy, a coalition of groups working toward a democracy where everyone participates, every vote is counted, and everyone’s voice is heard.
Take On Wall Street is a member of The Democracy Initiative, a coalition launched in 2013 working toward a bright future in which all Americans participate fully and freely in the democratic process. Partner organizations pursue a diverse range of progressive goals, including civil rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights, and climate justice, but we know that success in any of these areas depends on reforming our democracy and ensuring the right to vote.
This bill establishes new criteria for determining which states and political subdivisions must obtain preclearance before changes to voting practices may take effect. Preclearance is the process of receiving preapproval from the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before making legal changes that would affect voting rights.
A state and all of its political subdivisions shall be subject to preclearance of voting practice changes for a 10-year period if
- 15 or more voting rights violations occurred in the state during the previous 25 years;
- 10 or more violations occurred during the previous 25 years, at least 1 of which was committed by the state itself
The bill also outlines factors courts must consider when hearing challenges to voting practices, such as the extent of any history of official voting discrimination in the state or political subdivision.
- This omnibus bill package was the first piece of legislation introduced in the 117th Congress, and would restore voting rights to millions of Americans, crack down on dark money in elections (including from the big Wall Street banks), and enforce greater ethics in government including closing the revolving door between industry and Washington.
- The bill includes automatic voter registration, public financing of elections, an end to gerrymandering, a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and the disclosure of presidential tax returns.
This bill combats conflicts of interest by ending “golden parachute” payouts and the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington.Expanded to all industries and incorporated into H.R. 1, The For the People Act of 2019.
Judge strikes down Florida governor’s ‘unconstitutional’ election map by Sam Levine, The Guardian, May 11, 2022
White male minority rule pervades politics across the US, research shows by Alexandra Villarreal, The Guardian, May 26, 2021
Meet Christian Smalls and Derrick Palmer, the DIY Duo Behind the Amazon Labor Union’s Guerrilla Bid to Make History, by Josefa Velasquez, The City, March 24, 2022. (“a TV played the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on Martin Luther King Day as conveyor belts carrying products whizzed by in the background.”)
‘This is akin to a hostile takeover’ State officials ask residents of a small, predominantly Black town near the site of new Ford investment to forfeit their city charter or face takeover, by Anita Wadhwani, Tennessee Lookout, March 14, 2022.
Less than 35% of the $800 billion in PPP loans actually went to workers, say economists by Clint Rainey, Fast Company, January 17, 2022.
Voting Laws Roundup: December 2021 by The Brennan Center for Justice, January 12, 2022.
These maps show how Republicans are blatantly rigging elections by Andrew Witherspoon and Sam Levine, The Guardian, November 12, 2021
Pandemic Pay Plunder by Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati, Institute for Policy Studies, May 2021.
CEO pay has skyrocketed 1,322% since 1978 by David M. Shribman, Economic Policy Institute, January 12, 2020.
“No Labels and the ‘Problem Solvers’ are the Wolves of Wall Street in Sheeps’ Clothing,” by Porter McConnell and Rion Dennis, Inequality.org, December 12, 2018.