A fistful of cash on the scales of democracy

Pramila Jayapal
Nov 1 · 4 min read

I am extremely disturbed by the unprecedented amount of money that Amazon has dumped into Seattle City Council elections — not just a thumb, but a fistful of cash, on the scales of democracy.

My record is clear. I have long opposed the influence of money in politics.

I personally worked to help make sure our Seattle Democracy Vouchers actually passed. And I spent a decade as an activist as part of a coalition working to get money out of politics, pushing for government financing of our elections, and protecting voting rights for ordinary people.

My campaign does not take corporate PAC contributions, an increasingly popular position for many of my fellow Democrats — including some of those running for President and my colleagues who ran and won in swing districts on this issue.

I am proud to have introduced, with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act — the most extensive bill ever introduced to increase transparency and reduce corruption in our elections. And I was so proud that the very first bill we passed after Democrats took back the House was the For The People Act — a historic bill to take on corruption in Washington and curb the role of money in politics — with several key provisions from my anti-corruption bill, including a provision that expands our Seattle Democracy Vouchers program nationally.

America is suffering from a serious lack of trust by the American people that their elected leaders will fight for THEM — ordinary people who deserve to have this democracy work for them. They believe — with very good reason — that enormous amounts of money from the wealthiest individuals and corporations are trumping (no pun intended) their interests. And they are right.

You cannot say that we’re serious about getting guns off our streets, or fighting for a health care system that puts patients over profits, or investing in failing infrastructure, or fighting climate change if you are not willing to address the fundamental problem with a system that works only for those with money.

Seattle has led national efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 and protect domestic workers. We have one of the highest concentrations in the country of union workers. And we have a strong, historic commitment to advocating for bold, transformational, progressive change.

Fundamentally, we are at the forefront of the nation in rewriting the rules of our economy so it works for working people and the poor — an economy where today, 60 percent of Americans do not even have $500 in their bank accounts to take care of an emergency, an economy that is the most unequal since the 1920s, and an economy where three people, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, have the same combined wealth as a combined 160 million Americans.

My stance on this issue is not about any single corporation. It is about the core value of democracy, and the voice of individuals to elect their representatives. What disturbs me the most is that in our great, great city that I am so proud to represent, this most recent influx of money is callously disrespectful to the residents of our city. It says loud and clear that some people are afraid of letting real democracy work for the people.

I don’t think Amazon or any major corporation in America can legitimately claim they do not have a voice in our government. They have, time and time again, demonstrated their ability to influence policymaking in our cities and our nation.

All told, pro-business PACs have poured more than $2 million into our city’s elections. As a result, unions — whose political contributions come from working people putting 50 cents or a dollar into a political fund to counter corporate power — and progressive individuals were forced to respond to the corporate PACs with their own super PAC. This latest $1.1 million poured into city elections by Amazon two short weeks before the election is truly outrageous. I am getting asked about it not just in Seattle, but across the country. Just this morning I was on a number of national morning shows, and a commentator incredulously asked me privately, “Wow, did Amazon really put $1 million into buying your elections?”

Sadly, I had to say yes.

In my perfect world — and through my legislation — I make it clear that none of these super PACs should exist. We should have publicly funded elections with capped contributions that give real voice to the people.

If we truly mean that “nobody is above the law,” it means no one — and no corporation — gets to manipulate our elections.

This is about our elections, and ultimately about the strength of our democracy to stop working for deeply entrenched and monied interests, and start working FOR THE PEOPLE. These democratic values are worth more than any corporation’s bottom line.

Our city belongs to our citizens, not to super PACs.

Pramila Jayapal

Written by

Congressmember, WA-07. Bold, Progressive & Unafraid. Lifelong organizer for immigrant, civil & human rights. Proud mom! She/her.