Cockamamie:  adjective.  1. Of poor quality, inferior  2. Silly; ridiculous

Texan oil and gas magnates David and Charles Koch, and a few other billionaires and multi-millionaires, such as Los Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, are each pouring hundreds of million dollars into the elections, mainly to try to elect Mitt Romney as President and to ensure a Republican Congress. The unprecedented tsunami of big money into political campaigns – expected to total between $6 and $7 billion in the first Presidential electoral season since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court case removed any limits on contributions – marks a qualitative shift from Constitutional Democracy toward what might be called “Kochamamie Democracy.”

In Constitutional Democracy, the guiding principle is one person/ one vote. In Kochamamie Democracy, it is one dollar/one vote.

One dollar/one vote is the legal principle governing US corporations, with each shareholder entitled to the number of votes corresponding to his or her number of shares, deviating from the Constitutional principle that each citizen is entitled to equal voice, whatever their wealth.

Kochamamie Democracy thus represents the corporatization of American democracy. Billionaires such as the Koch Brothers, who own the second largest privately held US corporation, Koch Industries, have pledged 100 million of their own money as well as to bundle at least $300 million more in their Super Pac, Americans for Prosperity, to elect Romney and help consolidate corporate control over US elections and the US government.

One dollar/one vote has been the established system of corporate governance for over a century, enshrined during the 1890s Gilded Age. Whatever its economic merits, it is a degraded system of national political government and helps explain why a 2012 international Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security, headed by former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, singled out the US as the most important example of a rising trend of  “uncontrolled, undisclosed, illegal and opaque” political and election financing that is deeply corrupting, comparing the US highly unfavorably to other advanced democratic nations such as Canada.

Kochamamie Democracy has the following core attributes:

  • Massive contributions from a tiny plutocratic elite. A study by the Center for Responsive Politics of political  contributions in 2011-2012 showed that the 100 top donors to Super Pacs, mostly super-wealthy individuals, were 3.8 % of all  givers but accounted for more than 80% of all political contributions in the current race. Beyond the Koch Brothers, Adelson has said that he will spend “whatever it takes” to defeat Obama and elect Romney, already contributing more than $100 million and suggesting he may spend two or three times that amount.
  • Extreme low voter turnout. The US now has the lowest voter turnout of all advanced democratic nations, with about 60% expected to vote for President this year. The other forty percent, comprising more than 80 million adult Americans, mostly low income and the working poor, who support President Obama over Governor Romney by about 2 to 1 according to a recent Suffolk University poll of non-voters, view the system as hopelessly rigged and believe the act of voting has become pointless.
  • Corporate control of both major political parties. Despite all the talk of extreme partisan polarization,  the Republicans and Democrats are both captives of big business, the parties of Bush and Bush Lite. Parties that break from corporate priorities are unable to harvest the billions of dollars  necessary to win elections.
  • Corporate control of government policy. An infamous, secret clique of top oil executives and corporate lobbyists shaped the Bush-Cheney energy policy. This was emblematic of Kochamamie policy-making. Corporate lobbyists on K Street, from Wall Street, trade associations, and the Chamber of Commerce, draft much of the legislation on finance, energy, pharmaceuticals, agriculture,  trade, environment and even national security.

Corporate influence has been a major force since the 1890s Gilded Age, but we are entering a new electoral regime, where both political parties toe the corporate line. Both President Obama and Governor Romney work within the corporate consensus, with Obama saying that “I am an ardent believer in the free market,” and that “my administration is the only thing between you (the CEOs) and the pitchforks.” But even a whiff of populist sentiment by Obama in this election has turned Wall Street — which helped elect him with huge money in 2008 — toward support of Romney, who personifies the corporate “1%.”

If Governor Romney wins, the explanation is Kochamamie Democracy. Because of the long-rising corporate takeover, the image of America as champion of constitutional democracy is already fading abroad and at home. Romney and the Republican Party — the most loyal political partners of Wall Street, corporations and their agenda — are committed to Kochamamie Democracy because it is their only way to win when their core policies hurt the majority and are not embraced by the majority of voters, as Romney acknowledged in his 47% comments.

Changing this degraded system will require reversing the United Citizens decision, creating public financing of campaigns, redistributing wealth, passing iron-clad laws limiting lobbying and separating corporations and government, and breaking up or nationalizing the nation’s biggest companies, while re-chartering corporations to ensure that business serves the people, not the reverse.


Charles Derber, professor of sociology at Boston College, is author, most recently of Greed to Green, Marx’s Ghost, and The Surplus American.

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