This webinar was hosted by the FCCP Money in Politics Working Group and co-sponsored with Philanthropy New York

For decades, there’s been a push to insinuate special interests deeper into the fabric of our political processes. Private wealth floods our elections while global corporations and financial institutions push to profit from our most essential public services, like water. In this current moment, how do we harness our collective grassroots power to overcome this rigged system and its corrosive influence on our democracy?

Moderated by Melissa Spatz, Piper Fund [bio]

Speakers

  • Saqib Bhatti, Action Center on Race and the Economy [bio]
  • Charles Goodman, NAACP, Atlantic City
  • Gigi Kellett, Corporate Accountability International [bio]

RESOURCES

Access the Recording (FCCP members login here)

KEY TAKEAWAYS 

While we often focus on the impact that campaign contributions have on our democracy, efforts to privatize public services is an insidious way that corporations are gaining control over government. Foremost among these efforts is the privatization of municipal water systems. Using examples from Atlantic City, New Jersey; Flint, Michigan; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania we examined how corporations are siphoning wealth away from communities to put it in corporate control, and the successful strategies of grassroot efforts to combat it.

The problem

  • Corporations and politicians use the following blueprint to privatize public assets: Corporate Interference in our Political System (Money in Politics) > Defunding + Deregulation > No Money for Public Goods + Services > Privatization + Public-Private Partnerships
  • Knowing that “privatization” of public assets is unpopular, corporations exploit cities facing economic challenges by positioning themselves as a panacea to costly municipal investments in service delivery and infrastructure improvements by entering into “public-private partnerships” that ultimately put public resources into private hands.
  • Corporate influence over elected officials has opened the door to a variety of schemes which have put public assets at risk, including states removing local control over municipal assets, predatory municipal bond deals which indenture local governments to debt service, and outrageous government contracts which divert resources to corporations.

The impact

  • Under privatized municipal water systems, we have seen in places like Flint, Michigan how cost-cutting measures have resulted in lead-tainted water supplies, and higher ratepayer costs which disproportionately impact low-income households.
  • Despite bloated contracts, the private entities are not investing in maintaining the systems and leave taxpayers to ultimately pick up the tab.

The solution

The corporate accountability movement has been able to mount effective campaigns around privatization. We heard about one such example of the water-justice campaign, which has brought together community groups, environmental organizations, and labor unions. While the field’s tendency has often focused on the corrupt politicians, we should focus here on the corporations and the power they wield over politicians that let them rig the system. We need to not let electeds off the hook–mere pushback has helped to deter privatization before it got a foothold–but the main emphasis for building robust civic engagement to stop privatization is to focus on the corporate bad actors through these best practices:

  • Monitor industry
  • Alert local leaders and community groups to backdoor deals
  • Build broad-based coalitions
  • Discredit the industry via the media
  • Move local public officials
  • Hold politicians and corporations accountable to the social-justice and environmental principles they espouse

Corporate Accountability International Slides

REPORT: Troubled Waters: Misleading Industry PR and the Case for Public Water by Corporate Accountability International

REPORT: The Way Forward for Lagos Water on public water solutions in Nigeria by Corporate Accountability International, Environmental Rights Action Nigeria, Transnational Institute, and Public Services International

VIDEOS from Action Center on Race and the Economy’s LA capaigns: