Billionaires Are Ruining American Democracy

Terry F. Buss, PhD |

Billionaires, liberals and conservatives, are capturing control or already have control of the main stream news media. On the left….

According to Forbes Magazine, there were 565 billionaires in America in 2017. A mere handful has decided to reshape America as they would like it to be with little care for what others in the democracy might want.

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Their money talks the loudest and gets results in the political system. Here’s how…

• Billionaires dominate social media platforms—Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Cloudflare and others—that are censoring, distorting and controlling political information on the Internet.

• Billionaires control major news media outlets—Breitbart, Sinclair, Meredith, Washington Post, Fox News, CNN and others—that are biasing, distorting or politicizing news in publications and broadcasts.

• Billionaires fund advocacy groups—like Black Lives Matter, Anti-fascists, Media Matters, Moveon, white supremacists, Neo-Nazis—whose purpose is to oppose competing groups often through violence, shutting down free speech, and disruption.

• Billionaires spend lavishly on political candidates, driving out small campaign donors who cannot compete. And…

• Billionaires are trashing the campaign finance system by pouring money into dubious organizations—especially personal charitable foundations—designed to bypass campaign finance laws and avoid paying taxes.

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Social media has come under increasing scrutiny for manipulating political news that passes over its platforms. Most of the manipulation promotes or favors left-wing, liberal or progressive causes, while discounting right-wing, conservative or libertarian causes.

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communication Commission—the independent US government agency responsible for regulating the mass media and Internet—has been on a speaking tour arguing that social media platforms are a major threat to democracy and must be reined in. By reining them in, Pai means much more competition and transparency, and "light" regulation.

Interestingly, Ajit Pai, because of his remarks has had numerous death threats against himself and his family. The thugs making threats know where he lives and where his children go to school. His criticisms must have touched a nerve!

Pai gave two examples, "Twitter blocked Marsha Blackburn from advertising her Senate campaign launch video because it featured a pro-life [anti-abortion] message." Additionally, Twitter "appears to have a double standard when it comes to suspending or de-verifying conservative users’ accounts as opposed to those of liberal users." "Streaming services—YouTube—restricted videos from conservative commentator Dennis Prager on subjects he considers "important to understanding American values."

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CBS News reports that Facebook employees were routinely suppressing trending stories favoring conservatives and inserting non-trending stories favoring liberals into the list of trending stories. For example, when Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign collapsed, Facebook did not carry any stories, leaving the impression that all was well.

Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was hiring 3,000 new workers to police Facebook for unacceptable stories containing violent content. Will he use this to censure some groups and not others?

Fast Company reports the remarks from a former vice president of Facebook: He feels "tremendous guilt" over his work on "tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works", joining a growing chorus of critics of Facebook. The result: "No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth."

In covering protests against hate speech, the left wing media has reported that anti-fascists are not violent, but fascists are. If violent videos are not shown, then viewers would not know that anti-fascists are just as violent as fascists. Both sides use violence. So censuring violence as Zuckerberg wants to do is subject to political manipulation.

The Wall Street Journal reports that studies show Google search algorithms— procedures that select what content you see after a search—have a liberal bias. Rigorous studies show a 40% left-wing bias. The Study Breaks Blog warns students that their research papers may be biased as a result of relying on Google searches. The MIT Technology Review opines that such algorithmic biases are everywhere, yet no one seems to care.

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YouTube suffered the same criticism as Google. The NY Times accused it of being right wing, while the Daily Wire thought it was too liberal. Social media reinforces user’s preexisting biases making them an even more powerful tool for manipulation.

During the 2016 campaign for president, CEO of Redit—a social media site that allows users to vote on its content—admitted that he had secretly edited certain users’ comments concerning Donald Trump, an action against the rules guiding Redit.

The CEO of Cloudfare—a network security firm—recently stated, according to Pai, ". . . a cabal of ten tech executives with names like Matthew (Prince), Mark (Zuckerberg), Jack (Dorsey), . . . Jeff (Bezos) are the ones choosing what content goes online and what content doesn’t go online."

Cloudfare made news recently when it took down the website, "Der Stormer," a Neo-Nazi site. Matthew Prince agonized over this action as being "arbitrary and dangerous," meaning that he had the power to do this on a whim or for a political purpose. GoDaddy—web hosting firm—and Google also took down the site. Prince opined that no one should have this power.

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Billionaires, liberals and conservatives, are capturing control or already have control of the main stream news media. On the left….

Jeff Bezos founder of purchased the Washington Post in 2013 for $230 million. He claims that he has no control over the liberal, progressive editorial slant of the newspaper. I believe that’s true. But, Bezos did not pull back the Post’s avalanche of biased coverage of Donald Trump. He had the power to do so. The Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center reported that 83% of Washington Post stories were negative toward Trump. And few if any editorials were positive. In covering Trump the Post publically announced in so many words that it would operate as part of the "resistance" to Trump, working to take down Trump., owned by Bezos, was accused of supporting Hillary Clinton. When Clinton’s book about her campaign was published, bad book reviews bombed its website. According to critics, these suddenly greatly reduced in number, giving the book a lift in sales. Also, Amazon withdrew Confederate flag paraphernalia from its website in support of a social justice campaign against white supremacy by civil rights groups. This has nothing to do with what the confederate flag represents—American slavery—but everything to do with who decides its who gets to take it down.

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CNN seems to be the most biased media source espousing pro-liberal and anti-conservative views. The Shorenstein Center reported that 93% of its coverage of Trump was negative. CNN has been accused of presenting political commentary as if it were hard news. And its commentary rarely includes a balanced view of the other side.

Conservatives have their own media empire.

Foxnews is owned by media mogul, Rupert Murdock. Foxnews is conservative and somewhat pro-Trump. Foxnews, which typically beats out other cable shows in terms of ratings, has succeeded in becoming the bane of the left. Recently, Bill and Hillary Clinton appeared on TV to discuss politics. Hillary said, "Had Fox been around 20 years ago, Bill would not have been president." Liberals rarely appear on Foxnews programs for fear of being lambasted. President Obama and Hillary regularly call out Foxnews in public speeches accusing it of bias.

The Koch Brothers, Charles and David, owners of the second largest private company in the US, are major sponsors of conservative causes, spending nearly $1 billion in 2016 on elections. Recently, the Koch Brothers bought into Meredith Corp for $630 million. Meredith owns Time Inc, CNN, People Magazine and numerous other publications. It’s unclear why they would do this, but speculators believe that this is to influence the media.

Breitbart news website is now very prominent in the debate on media influence. Breitbart is an unabashed alt-right website. Steve Bannon runs Breitbart. Bannon is famous as Trump’s strategy advisor during the initial months of the president’s term. Bannon steered Trump in the extreme right nationalist direction, including withdrawing from a US global presence, pulling out of trade agreements, expelling illegal immigrants, getting tough on China, and sidling up to Russia. Bannon claims credit for getting Trump elected. Because of his divisiveness, Bannon seems to have been fired.

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Bannon is now trying to unseat or campaign for candidates who hold the same nationalists views as he does. He is using his small media empire in a full out assault on any and all opposition. He does not care that he may precipitate the fall of the Republican Party. His overall goal is to tear down the US government, literally, and bring down the Establishment which controls it. Ironically, Bannon is using Establishment money to defeat it.

Billionaires are going after one another. Paul Singer is a major funder of the web newspaper, Washington Free Beacon, conservative web-based paper. The Beacon funded some of the initial "opposition research" looking for "dirt" on Trump. Singer is part of the Never Trump Movement composed of disenchanted anti-Trump Republicans. Bannon has pledged to "take down" Singer.

Billionaire Robert Mercer has long funded Breitbart. Recently, Mercer gave up his stake in Breitbart reportedly because Bannon seems to have gone too far is his apocalyptic pursuits. But other wealthy contributors still support Bannon.

Some have called for more fact checking of the media. There are several in operation, but all of them have been found to be biased in their analyses, rendering them useless.

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American has had its share of extremist groups exerting power in the political system in the past, especially the 1960s. Infamous activist Saul Alinsky in his "Reveille for Radicals" laid out the method for tearing down the Establishment, many groups today are using that "bible to guide their protests. As an aside, Alinsky dedicated his book to Lucifer!

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George Soros has been accused by the right of funding more than 200 groups many of which are seeking to bring down the Establishment. Ironically, the left wing of Soros has the same method as the right wing of Bannon. Soros is believed to be funding so-called anti-fascist groups to disrupt, often violently, conservative and right wing rallies, protests and events. Legitimate academics and authors (e.g., Charles Murray) have been targeted as have extremists, provocateurs (e.g., Milo Yiannopoulos), and white supremacists (e.g., Richard Spencer).

Dozens of legitimate conservative media have made claims about Soros, as have the White House and Congress. So there is no evidence that I have seen that implicates Soros directly. What exists is "guilt by association." What’s important is that the widespread belief that he is involved further contributes to distrust across the country.

Hungarian PM Viktor Urban is close to shutting down Soros’ Central European University in Budapest because of the way it operates.

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Media Matters for America is funded in part by Soros Open Society Institutes, the Tides Foundation, and Sandler Foundation according to the Daily Caller. The Tides Foundation allows the wealthy who do not want to create their own foundation to contribute; donors and grantees are kept anonymous. The Sandler Foundation funds progressive organizations like the Center for American Progress. Media Matters recently launched an assault on the Foxnews Sean Hannity Show for his support of Trump. Media Matters called for advertisers to withdraw their advertising dollars from the show. Earlier Media Matters successfully used same approach to oust the Bill O’Reilly Show.

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Campaign funding for the 2016 election, according to the NY Times, attracted the largest contributions from 11 billionaires, contributing between $19 million and $85 million. The largest contributor was Thomas Steyer. Steyer recently spent $20 million to run TV ads calling for the "impeachment" of Trump. He spent another $75 million to fund projects to increase the participation of young people in future elections and politics—against Trump, of course. Steyer also had begun an effort to run for office himself, but withdrew when it became clear that Republicans were winning elections in 2016.

Perhaps the biggest influence in the political system was Trump’s 2016 campaign. No one has yet figured out exactly how much Trump spent. He laid out millions. Cleverly, though, he used his own aircraft, properties and operations to fund his campaign, then paid himself back with interest.

Trump is the second presidential candidate to self-finance. Billionaire Ross Perrot ran in 1992 as an independent. He attracted enough votes away from Republican President George H.W. Bush giving the election to Bill Clinton. Billionaires can determine elections.

Sheldon Adelson reported donating $20 million to the Trump 2016 campaign. The NY Times claims that Trump and Adelson met 10 days ago and requested that Trump keep his campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Times is claiming the announcement to move the embassy was political.

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Billionaires and others with cash favor placing their money in foundations, which in turn award grants to non-governmental organizations which distribute monies often for political purposes. I’ve chosen not to name these because it’s difficult to find objective, valid information on them. What we know is that many foundations receive monies from off shore accounts often from billionaires. Their intent is to avoid US taxes and to obscure where foundation funding ends up. The recent reporting on the Paradise Papers and Panama Papers [journalists from around the world are investigating financial data leaked to the press] shows some of these connections.

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It’s is ironic that billionaires who claim to value democracy and capitalism and who gained a fortune under that system, are so willing not to pay takes and to engage in illegal or extra legal behavior.

Another variation is that a foundation will employ campaign workers, but list them as foundation workers. This allows campaigns to hide campaign expenses and keep political organizations in tact while waiting for the next election. Foundations also receive donations from lobbyists and foreign governments for charitable work which in turn finds its way into political campaigns—so-called "pay to play." Ironically, in going after Trump for his sketchy finances, investigators have found numerous Democrats employing dubious schemes to influence politics.

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iUS politics has always been fueled by money in spite of numerous efforts to stop it. Presidents Obama and Trump and Hillary Clinton promised not to take money from so-called "dark money," vested corporations, foreign governments, and extremist sources, yet ended up doing so when they saw how money could be assembled.

What’s different now is that a small number of billionaires are increasing controlling politics and society by flooding it with money and influence. With the advent of the Internet, cable news, social media and technology more money than ever can be spent, regardless of what the people or citizenry want.

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Democracy is now dictated by a handful of billionaires who are outside the political system, but are manipulating elected officials, the civil service, advocacy groups, extremists and others to have their way. Often they stand at arms-length and rarely getting their own hands dirty.

The problem is that most of what is occurring is legal. Often this bad behavior is justified as the constitutional right to free speech. Nonetheless, those in control have a right to manipulate in most cases.

Even when billionaires appear to be acting in the public interest, they can be acting in their own. A new study in The Guardian suggests that billionaires have unprecedented access to politicians and can influence policy. Numerous wealthy actors and Hollywood operators, for example, use their fame and fortune to promote policy. President Obama appears to have successfully courted Hollywood during and after his presidency.

Trying to rein in free speech by controlling financial influence is a bad idea. Every time politicians mess about with free speech, they unleash numerous, negative consequences. The issue is how to reduce manipulation by a few without impinging on the rights of the many.

The solution to the problem is several fold. First, citizens must be better educated about the law, constitution, democracy, and basic freedoms. This training has been systematically wrung out of the curriculum in schools and universities. Few US universities even bother to teach American history as part of a history degree!

Second, the mainstream media needs to do a better job of investigating and calling out anti-democratic behavior of the wealthy and others. Often news stories do not appear if they conflict with the prevailing narrative of a news outlet. Shaming might work in many cases.

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Third, the mainstream media needs to return to the "good days" when most news outlets had high standards in reporting. Since he became president, the media pledged to go after Trump to keep him from being elected, failing that to impeach and remove him from office, and at least make his administration an abject failure.

James Ruthenberg, media columnist for the NY Times, proposed that the press abandon its traditional standards of fairness and objectivity and go after Trump "hard" when they feel threatened. The Washington Post even added the masthead, "Democracy dies in darkness." The NY Times also took on a new slogan in the Trump era: "The Truth Is More Important Now Than Ever." The media has clearly become the problem.

Now the media enjoys the lowest levels of respect ever. Most people think it’s biased. Just as the media colluded to take down Trump, perhaps they could return to the objectivity and journalistic standards that they once had. This does not mean that the media needs to be positive about Trump, but rather that it is fair and truthful.

Fourth, like the media, elected officials in Congress are enjoying several decades of poor approval ratings. Only 10% of Americans are satisfied. Perhaps the major parties could enter into a pact to stop allowing the takeover of their operations by a handful of wealthy patrons who it now seems do not have the best interests of the country at heart.

While I disagree with nearly every one of his policies, Bernie Sanders, who ran against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary, demonstrates that it is possible to rid these people’s influence from the system.

I agree with Pai, the answer is not more government interference or regulation. That simply allows government to replace wealthy individuals.

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