The Beginning: Taxes
The Patriotic Millionaires first came together during the lame duck session of Congress in 2010 to demand higher taxes on themselves and other millionaires for the good of the country. The group instantly sparked the public imagination and became an overnight media sensation. The Patriotic Millionaires quickly grew from a few dozen to more than 200 members. The group generated literally hundreds of millions of dollars of media attention here and abroad.
Over several trips to Washington, members of the group met with dozens of lawmakers of both parties to argue for the moral and fiscal imperative of higher taxes on millionaires. The reach of the campaign was so vast that the President of the Czech Republic referenced the group in an address to the Czech Parliament about that country’s tax policy.
In April 2012, the President invited the Patriotic Millionaires to join him on the podium for his annual Tax Day Address. The White House widely credits the Patriotic Millionaires with influencing the public climate in which budget and tax negotiations took place that year. In late 2012, the President signed into law the American Taxpayer Relief Act which, among other things, raised the marginal tax rate on incomes over $1 million.
Expansion to Wage Policy: Challenging Trickle Down Economics
With a powerful victory in hand, the Patriotic Millionaires launched a critical second front in their battle against the growing threat of inequality. In 2013, they turned their attention to ensuring a stable level of aggregate demand by raising the minimum legal wage permitted in the wealthiest country in the world. This new front on inequality was launched under the banner: Smart Capitalists.
The goal of the campaign was to increase the federal minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour, and to assert a powerful vision about the basic structure of capitalism. Far right conservatives teach that wealth created by a small group of elites “trickles down” to the masses. “Smart Capitalists” know the opposite is true–greater prosperity begins with strong demand and flows up.
The Smart Capitalists grew significantly the year following their inception, forming part of a rising tide of bipartisan public support for a higher federal minimum wage. In February 2014, President Obama invited the Smart Capitalists to the White House to meet with leading policy makers and to witness the signing of the executive order to raise wages for federal contract workers. In March, the Smart Capitalists met with dozens of senior lawmakers to explain the importance of raising the federal minimum wage. Their work and that of allies led to a number of important legislative victories in 2014, and even more impressively to the passage of numerous state ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage.
Money in Politics: The Gordian Knot
Despite important victories in both tax and wage policy, the gap between America’s rich and poor continues to grow, reaching levels last seen in the late 1920s. While some level of inequality is the expected result of natural causes, the problematic degree of today’s inequality is due largely to the expansion of political imbalances and the undue influence of a small group of self-interested actors on government policy.
Over several decades, the effort to deregulate the country’s campaign finance system has resulted in unprecedented levels of political spending by a small collection of self-interested actors. This spending has allowed elites to promote their own agendas, such as tax policies that benefit only a small number of elites, and labor policy that values senior management over regular workers.
The role this “legislative capture” plays in aggravating economic inequality has rallied the Patriotic Millionaires to a third cause–Money in Politics. The Patriotic Millionaires recognize that political inequality exacerbates economic inequality and that economic inequality in turn leads to greater political inequality. “A tiny number of people are using their money to increase their political power and using their political power to increase their wealth, and it is killing the country,” says Patriotic Millionaires Chairman Morris Pearl. The Patriotic Millionaires believe this cycle has become an existential threat to the long-term stability and prosperity of our country, so in 2015-2016 they are embarking on an unprecedented public education campaign to draw attention to this critical issue.
A Powerful Merger and the Road Ahead
To meet this great challenge, the Patriotic Millionaires are significantly expanding their capacity. In 2015, they merged with Wealth for the Common Good, a powerful network of more than 5,000 business people, high net-worth individuals and partners. Founded in 2008, Wealth for the Common Good is perhaps best known for mobilizing a vocal group of millionaires and billionaires against the repeal and “reform” of the federal estate tax. From 2010-2012, the group worked closely with the Patriotic Millionaires to force the expiration of the 2001 Bush tax cuts and a restoration of top tax rates.
The merger of The Patriotic Millionaires and Wealth for the Common Good marks a pivotal moment in the fight to build a stable, prosperous future for our country. Together these groups represent thousands of the country’s wealthiest, most influential citizens, all of whom recognize the incredible threat posed by today’s historic levels of inequality. The members of the group are deeply committed to advancing the well-being of the country as a whole and to generating prosperity for all American citizens rather than a small elite. Together we can help lead a movement to ensure a more prosperous and more just nation.