Bob Edgar died suddenly from a heart attack last week at age 69. In Congress from 1975–87, as general secretary of the National Council of Churches and as the CEO of Common Cause, Edgar worked to hold those in power accountable to the public.
Whether it’.s for requesting that the Justice Department investigate Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas for a conflict of interest in the Citizens United ruling, or for bringing aid to the Palestinian town of Jenin after the 2002 Israeli bombardment, Edgar is remembered for his lifelong commitment to social justice and his opposition to the insidious influence of money in politics. As New Yorkers, among others, push forward on bills to change campaign financing across the country, it’s worth remembering his words: “We the people have to stand up, take ownership of our government, reduce the impact of money, reduce the impact of corporate interests. People have to recognize that they are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.”
I had the luck to talk with Edgar for the Free Speech for People project in the spring of 2011. What follows is a part of that conversation. Watch a longer interview with Edgar about democracy, myths and realities, here.
Bob Edgar: When I served in Congress, special interests groups brought their talking points first. They watched how you voted and the people who didn’t like the way you voted, they didn’t bother you very much, they weren’t out trying to get you defeated. In those days it used to be talking points first, now it’s money first.
We used to have smoked-filled rooms, now we have money-filled rooms. Over the last few years, particularly with the Citizens United decision where the Supreme Court voted five to four to give corporations and labor unions the ability to dip into their corporate treasury, there’s just been an exponential, a huge increase in the amount of money, and I believe that money is corroding our system.
The Koch brothers, for ten years they have been having semi-secret meetings with the Glenn Becks and the O’Reillys of this world, and we discovered they have also been bringing Supreme Court Justices twice a year to their events to think about changing the way people perceive global warming. They have actually set up organizations to put false science together to get reports out that counter basic science on what’s happening to the environment. They can do it because the two brothers have a combined wealth of more than $40 billion.
We don’t have the opportunity to have all of that false information playing itself out there; we have got to make some tough decisions on global warming and the environment. I think we are living in a very dangerous moment. My hope is that we recognize that we live on a fragile planet.
When I was born in 1943 there were about 2 billion people on planet earth, this year we will pass 7 billion people on planet Earth. More than half of all the people who ever lived on planet Earth are alive today, so I would hope that we could lessen the impact of our spending on military and focus that on peacemaking, that we would be stewards of a fragile planet and work on environmental cleanup and that we would not just talk about the upper class or the middle class but that we would recognize that the working class, the working poor also need to be helped.
We are working hard to spread a good virus across the country called public financing. We installed it in Arizona, in Connecticut and in Maine. In Connecticut in 2008, 74 percent of the candidates running for the state legislature used our voluntary public financing system, took no special interest money. Eighty-one percent of them got elected, and for the last two years we’ve had probably the best legislature in Connecticut than they’ve had in the past. Special interests could still lobby, but they had to lobby with their talking points and not with their checkbooks. We the people have to stand up, take ownership of our government, reduce the impact of money, reduce the impact of corporate interests. People have to recognize that they are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.
In a massive, covert experiment, corporate interests are destroying your health. Read David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz’s take.