There are few Americans who would deny that money speaks louder than words, and after the conservative Supreme Court unleashed corporate-funded elections, large amounts of money have taken away the voice of the people. Even without elections, conservative special interest groups are controlling nearly every aspect of Republican policies at the state and federal level whether they are religious organizations or the corporation-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and it presents a daunting task for average Americans who may see no way to compete with unlimited amounts of cash and the power it brings. Voting is hardly a remedy to combat unlimited corporate money because corporations, like their special interest groups, are not elected and do not answer to anyone except their shareholders and the free market they worship. Over the past few months, Americans discovered that their only recourse to fight back against powerful, moneyed interests is to use their own power against them and the results have been impressive.
There are three specific instances of activists exerting their financial power over wealthy organizations, and their efforts work not by spending money, but by threatening to take it away. The wealthy and their corporations will do nearly anything to keep their money, but their prime directive is earning it, and given the choice of changing an agenda or losing money, it is apparent they will change to avoid losing a penny.
In February when Komen for the Cure withdrew funding from Planned Parenthood over abortion services, the backlash from Americans was swift and decisive and it was not because of petitions or protest rallies, but because Komen lost funding. Decent Americans from all walks of life were outraged that an organization whose goal was finding a cure for cancer would withhold funding for Planned Parenthood that provided free or low-cost cancer screening for millions of Americans, and because they could not vote against Komen, they stopped donating and it had an immediate effect. Komen’s withdrawing financial support for Planned Parenthood was steeped in religious dogma, but Komen executives soon learned that religion did not pay the bills or protect them from Americans who began donating directly to Planned Parenthood instead of Komen; the rest is history. In fact, Komen has quietly resumed funding Planned Parenthood and awarded grants to at least 17 Planned Parenthood affiliates in 2012.
Komen learned a lesson that radio stations carrying Rush Limbaugh’s show are learning and that is the public gives money, and they can take it away. Despite Limbaugh’s assertions to the contrary, the affiliates that carry his program are feeling the loss of revenue from advertisers that withdrew support over his vile comments about Sandra Fluke. Make no mistake, none of the advertisers pulled their ads of their own accord because they were outraged over his sexist comments, but because angry Americans threatened boycotts that would affect their profits and it has resulted in approximately 200 hundred advertisers ending their support for Limbaugh’s show, and the effort is just getting started. In markets all across the country concerned activists are exerting pressure on local advertisers and affiliates to stop sponsoring hate-speech, and there are groups specifically targeting advertisers to impress upon them that it is a money-losing proposition to continue subsidizing Limbaugh.
The biggest prize thus far though is the pressure on a growing list of corporate giants like Coca Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s, the Gates Foundation and others that withdrew their support for ALEC after negative publicity resulting from the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin and the public’s awareness of voter suppression laws in dozens of states at ALEC’s behest. The neo-conservative group flourished in the background for over 30 years writing template legislation for Republicans, but that secrecy factor is over. The corporations opting away from ALEC took preemptive action before the public could hurt them financially, and it is a testament to activists who publicized ALEC’s involvement in state legislatures that are restricting voting and promoting laws allowing citizens to use deadly force “anyplace they have a legal right to be” if they think they are in danger or think an “unlawful act is about to occur.” Yesterday, candy giant Mars joined other corporations in withdrawing support for ALEC and although the corporations avoided a financial hit, ALEC did not and it was obvious from the whiny statement from ALEC’s executive director claiming there was an expert campaign of intimidation targeting ALEC’s corporate sponsors.
Activism is only meaningful if there are results, and no amount of petition drives, votes, or rallies will ever affect an organization that is answerable to shareholders. As long as money flows into an organization without the risk of disruption, it is never going to change, but the slightest indication that their profits or reputation are in jeopardy will engender surprising results. Americans do have power beyond the ballot box, and they have finally started using it to good effect by punishing the groups that can effect real change if they think their wealth is threatened. Money is a powerful motivator, and the love of money causes people to do terrible things, but the thought of losing money is also powerful and the American people have the power to take it away from corporations, radio talk-show hosts, and ALEC’s donors, and now that people realize they control corporate wealth, real change may finally happen. Well thought-out activism is the best of democracy, freedom, and Republicans’ free-market capitalism and it is ironic that decent Americans will use the GOP’s beloved free enterprise to hasten their demise, but they are too busy counting their corporate donations to see it coming.