Joe Manchin Just Showed Why We Need the OLIGARCH Act

Last week, Senator Manchin blindsided his Democratic colleagues when he reversed course on his previous demands that their agenda be focused on tax reform and declared that he would not vote to raise taxes on the rich or massive corporations. In doing so, he dashed Democrats’ hopes to pass any sort of meaningful tax legislation before November. He also ironically proved, by showing the country just how shamelessly he is controlled by his wealthy donors and peers, just how important it is for us to tax the rich.

It all comes down to money and the power it buys. With so much wealth floating around in our political system, politicians are incentivized to follow the whims of their wealthy donors and ignore the wishes of the average American or West Virginian (both of whom overwhelmingly support raising taxes on the rich).

So how do we fix this? The problem of money in politics pre-dates Citizens United. However, in that case The Supreme Court, an institution captured by a long-term political project of many of those same special interests, ruled that, barring Constitutional amendments or a dramatically different set of judges, we cannot limit how much money the powerful can dump into corrupting the political system. So the only vehicle left is to constrain the wealth that fuels it. 

Earlier this month, the Patriotic Millionaires, an organization of hundreds of wealthy “class traitors” who are fighting to reduce economic and political inequality, introduced a new proposal we’re calling the Oppose Limitless Inequality Growth and Restore Civil Harmony (OLIGARCH) Act, which would directly address the source of the flood of dirty money taking over our electoral system.

The OLIGARCH Act is an annual tax on extreme wealth, based on how rich someone is compared to the wealth of the median American household. It would have four brackets: 2% on wealth between 1,000 and 10,000 times median household wealth, 4% on wealth between 10,000 and 100,000 times median household wealth, 6% on wealth between 100,000 and 1,000,000 times median household wealth, and 8% on wealth over 1,000,000 times median household wealth. Currently, someone would need to have over $120 million in wealth to pay a penny of this tax. 

While it would raise plenty of revenue, that’s hardly the point. This proposal is designed to reduce inequality, and constrain “runaway” wealth- wealth that is so great living expenses or lifestyle spending won’t meaningfully slow its growth. 

This is the kind of wealth that can destabilize democracy. People with this level of wealth can fund endless political campaigns to protect their own self interest. They can spend hundreds of millions on media efforts and ads and propaganda campaigns. They can buy up local news networks, talk radio channels, and fund entire media outlets to permeate the airwaves and internet with their talking points and misinformation, and use them to gin up hatred against immigrants, LGBTQ+ Americans, women, and other vulnerable groups to distract from their own accumulation of more wealth. In short, it’s the kind of wealth that is already creating an American Oligarchy. 

That Oligarchy kicked into action when Senator Manchin indicated he was enthusiastic about reversing Trump tax cuts and taxing the rich. It’s the driving force behind the phone calls and fundraiser conversations from the Senator’s fellow yacht owners and coal-mine investors. It’s what funds the dark money political groups and corporate PACs who used some combination of threats, ego stroking, and (technically legal) bribes to convince him it was time for a change of heart. 

Taxing wealth is the only way to meaningfully constrain inequality and its destabilizing effect on our Democracy, and our tax code’s traditional focus on income as the primary source of personal taxes does not impact the uber-wealthy who are able to declare little to no income while their overall wealth skyrockets. We need to ensure that the richest people in the country can no longer subvert the overwhelming will of voters by buying the goodwill of elected officials. Inequality is destabilizing our Democracy, and it’s time to use the tax code to attack it head on. 

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