Dollarocracy vs. Democracy: The Political System of America

by Ray Still

Evergreen alum Robert McChesney (class of ’77) and John Nichols, well known media critics/scholars, spoke to a filled library basement on Nov. 13 about their new book “Dollarocracy,” which explores the political power of the dollar.

McChesney explained how the term dollarocracy captures the “crisis” in American politics today. “Instead of ‘one person, one vote,’ you have ‘one dollar, one vote,” he said. “Those with lots of dollars have a great deal of power, and those with no dollars have no power.”

McChesney and Nichols lectured about the role money has in American politics and how the judicial decision commonly known as Citizens United has increased the influence money has in politics.

“Washington state is the number one example in the United States of the crisis of Dollarocracy,” Nichols said, referencing Initiative 522, concerning labeling of genetically modified foods, which did not pass in the Nov. 6 election. Nichols explained that the initiative failed, despite the overwhelming public opinion support for genetically modified foods to be labeled in stores. “You couldn’t find somebody that was against it.”

Nichols also said that companies like Monsanto, ConAgra Foods, Coca-Cola, and General Mills, “paid to make people so confused, so uncertain, so troubled… that they would vote against it.”

The Seattle Times reported the “No on 522” campaign raised over $21 million, a record in Washington state, while “Yes on 522” raised just over $6 million.

“Pollsters will tell you that in a matter of days, they saw one of the most dramatic shifts in public sentiment in American political history,” Nichols said. “$21 million, or more, bought a result. That’s dollarocracy in play.”

Tom Rainey, an emeritus of Evergreen and McChesney’s favorite professor, said the dollarocracy affects colleges– including Evergreen.

“It costs parents and students a great deal more to come to this college, or any other college, than it used to,” Rainey said. “It seems to me that the trend is to make higher education such that only wealthy people can participate.”

Rainey believes that a re-democratization of politics in the United States would bring tuition prices down.

McChesney and Nichols ended their lecture by calling on the audience to begin petitioning the state to overturn the Citizens United ruling. Nichols pointed out that 16 states have formally petitioned for Congress to overturn the judicial ruling.

“We didn’t come to start a movement,” Nichols said. “We came to show you that a movement has already started.”

You can find more information on their book at, or buy their book at the Evergreen bookstore.