Plucky megacorporations Chevron and American Beverage Association take on powerful grassroots activists Marilyn Langlois and Eduardo Martinez in Richmond, California.
The right of money to decide elections is being tested in Richmond, California (pop. 105,000), a suburb of San Francisco and Oakland. In a clear rebuke to American-style democracy, millions of dollars from huge corporations may prove inadequate to win the election for the corporate candidates.
Ben Franklin and Andrew Jackson were appalled. “You would think that those who spread around so many of our portraits on a green background would be the clear choice of the voters. What is it going to take for money to win the respect it deserves?”
The corporations are certainly giving it their best effort. Chevron Oil is spending at least $1.2 million, along with the National Beverage Association, which is contributing more than $2 million, to defeat former mayoral advisor Marilyn Langlois and former schoolteacher Eduardo Martinez, both running for city council. Langlois and Martinez of the Richmond Progressive Alliance have all of $29,000 between them and are therefore being outspent more than 100 to one.
“If it takes $1000 – even $5000 – to change the mind of just one voter, we are ready to do what it takes for free speech and democratic principles to prevail”, said a corporate campaign spokesperson.
Nevertheless, the corporate giants fear that their efforts may not be enough, and that the rights of the people of Richmond may outweigh that of money, thanks to the power of grassroots organizing, epitomized by the RPA. They recall that in a similar contest two years ago, grassroots RPA candidates won against vastly wealthier opponents, also backed by Chevron.
“What country are we in, where massive amounts of cash are not enough to get people to believe what we want and to vote against their own interests?” exclaimed Wirloded campaign manager Layta Saymwa. “You would think folks would have gotten the point after Citizens United. Grassroots organizing is a threat to the rights of money everywhere. We need the political equivalent of Roundup to get rid of it.”
Saymwa was referring to Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2012), which ruled that money equals free speech and that free speech is for sale to those who can pay for it. “It makes me ashamed to live in a so-called democracy, where money cannot buy elections and my choice does not prevail regardless of how much I spend. Do you know how many of our dollars were sacrificed to win Citizens United? The struggle never ends.”
“Langlois and Martinez believe they can win by seeking justice, giving power to the people, telling the truth and mobilizing dedicated unpaid volunteers,” said Saymwa. “I’m here to tell you that those heavy-handed tactics won’t work, and our good old American greenbacks will carry the day. Power to the powerful! Defend the corporation! We can’t allow the people to steal this election from us.”