Testimony in Support of Responsible Business Act

Testimony in Support of Responsible Business Act

The following testimony was presented to the Cook County Board by Common Cause Illinois Executive Director Brian Gladstein

The following testimony was presented to the Cook County Board by Common Cause Illinois Executive Director Brian Gladstein

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony today. My name is Brian Gladstein and I am the Executive Director for Common Cause Illinois. Today, income inequality is undermining the core fabric of our democracy, and therefore, we are in support of the proposed Responsible Business Act.

Common Cause Illinois is a state organization of Common Cause, one of the nation’s most effective non partisan advocacy organizations dedicated to reforming government and strengthening democracy in America. Established in 1970, Common Cause has a robust presence in Washington, state operations in 35 states, 400,000 members and a reputation as a nonpartisan leader working for government that is accountable to the people. In 2012, the organization committed to rebuilding strong operations in Illinois and re-engaging our 10,000 supporters statewide.

Since that time, we have helped the state pass legislation that created online and same day registration programs, along with passing City of Chicago and Statewide referendums to support our efforts to limit the influence that large special interests have on our elections. Now we are working with Reclaim Chicago to pass a small donor public financing system in the City of Chicago and throughout the state of Illinois.

Over the past 40 years, we have witnessed a methodical increase in the powers of large corporations, decrease in regulation and consumer protections, and a widening gap between the rich and the poor. It’s no accident that the economic gap between the richest 1% of Americans and everyone else is larger than at any time since the 1920s.

According to the New York Times, in 1952, 87 percent of Americans thought there was plenty of opportunity for progress; only 8 percent disagreed. As income inequality has grown, though, many have changed their minds. From 1993 to 2010, the incomes of the richest 1 percent of Americans grew 58 percent while the rest had a 6.4 percent increase. And a 2010 study showed that 41 percent of Americans said that there was not much opportunity in America, up from 17 percent in 1998.

These trends undermine our democracy because as Roberto Eduardo of the New York Times wrote, “the result is resentment and political instability, eroding the legitimacy of democratic institutions. It can produce political polarization and gridlock, splitting the political system between haves and have-nots, making it more difficult for governments to address imbalances and respond to brewing crises.”

The result is cynicism and disenfranchisement of voters from our government, which is a problem we face in Illinois – a state with the second lowest turnout rates in the Midwest. One of the pillars of our democratic tradition is being mindful of anything that presents a threat to the integrity of democracy in the mind of the voting public. An overworked, perpetually exhausted low wageworker may find it difficult to vote and participate in our democracy.

And now the ultra rich and large corporations are spending more time and more of their wealth on determining who gets into office rather than supporting the workers that are responsible for our countries prosperity. In fact, Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, have contributed $176 million in the first phase of the current presidential campaign.

This is why Common Cause worked to expose such institutions that are perpetuating income inequality in our country, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (better know as ALEC), which started in the early 1970’s and is now made up of some of the nation’s largest and richest companies investing millions of dollars each year to pass state laws putting corporate interests ahead of the interests of hard working Americans. We are starting to win as several companies have withdrawn from ALEC and the public is starting to demand change.

But more can be done. More needs to be done. And it begins at city, county, and state governments across this nation. Our public services are vital to ensuring strong communities and every family should have access to quality childcare, affordable housing, and good health care. This ordinance will strengthen these services that low wage workers depend on, create jobs that grow the economy, and level the playing field for small businesses that play by the rules.

The Responsible Business Act will require profitable companies in Cook County to do their part. And as our economy struggles to recover, it’s vital that we grow the economy by investing in working families. This legislation would create jobs in Cook County by putting money back in the pockets of working families. When workers earn more money, they spend more at local businesses, which grows our economy and creates new jobs.

Common Cause enthusiastically supports this legislation and urges the Cook County Board to pass it to demonstrate to everyone that large corporations that do business in our communities must also invest in our communities.