The revolution that Bernie Sanders envisioned during his campaign has now become the brand for a corporation called “Our Revolution.” In order for the revenues of Our Revolution to be tax exempt, Bernie Sanders and his team created a nonprofit entity subject to the rules of the Internal Revenue Service as a “social welfare” organization. And, in order for Our Revolution to be an entity at all, the organization had to file articles of incorporation and corporate bylaws somewhere.
Is incorporation a slippery slope of counter-revolution?
Forming an entity that is going to have a bank account and make a concerted effort to achieve lofty stated objectives may seem like an activity that people could do quite simply. But media scrutiny soon redirects the conversation away from ideas. Controversy over ideas will never get the kind of press attention that money, scandal and personalities enjoy.
The challenge of Our Revolution is not whether we recognize the need for political change; the stumbling block is that the chosen medium for change is to establish a top-down corporate structure regulated by the IRS and typical corporate bylaws.
Just as every successful political campaign that began with crying out for change ended up becoming the establishment whose power is distrusted, a “revolution” that aims to support candidates in a political election will not change much but the personalities in office. More importantly, adding money into any recipe for human interaction begins a fermentation that can quickly change delicious sweetness into a potent inebriant.
Sanders raised an unprecedented $228 million in the course of his presidential campaign. Of course, they spent it. Now that the Sanders campaign is over, Our Revolution is aiming to become a permanent organization, a perpetual force that will carry on Bernie’s principles and ideas—and continue to raise large sums of money. If it is the successor to Bernie’s fund-raising successes, those corporate bylaws are going to matter. In time, they may be all that matters.
How long can Bernie’s political ideas stay fresh? His entire political lifetime has shown philosophical consistency and his ideas are a century old. But he has never before been the leader of a grass roots movement. The elusive hope that a bottom-up organizing strategy can fit people into a top-down corporate structure has been dashed over and over again throughout history. Our Revolution, once it is a rich and powerful corporation, may be destined to fail as soon as it succeeds—because success will bring it wealth and its leaders power and celebrity.
Remember Lord Acton’s adage about power corrupting? Anyone who has held the reins of power, if only for a moment in girl scouts, understands that authority to grant favors will likely lead to resentment on behalf of the disfavored and corruption on the part of the leaders. Even if these anticipated chapters do not develop, success itself creates a perception of power broking.
Bernie Sanders is passing the baton to a prestigious board of directors. The whole gestalt will change as reporters interpret Our Revolution’s corporate mission and speculate on its tactics of fundraising and resource allocation. The grass roots beginnings will mature to a new establishment of political power.
Look at what actually happened with the Clinton Foundation. By both internal and external measurements, this charity has been a remarkable success. No one seems to question whether or not it has achieved its stated charitable goals, and no one gets much traction from criticizing what it set out to do (from the Foundation website):
- improve global health and wellness,
- increase opportunity for girls and women,
- reduce childhood obesity,
- create economic opportunity and growth, and
- help communities address the effects of climate change
What irks the media critics is that the foundation’s success has given the Clintons personal access to wealth and power. Reporters treat their nonprofit entity like any other business venture of any other candidate. They look at Hillary’s meetings with donors as meetings with investors. They gloat over discovering connections with other nonprofits and wonder about conspiratorial plots as though the purpose was price fixing among members of an oil cartel.
I do think it is possible for corporations to achieve good and great things. Without formally organized NGOs, no international charitable purposes would ever be met. No methods of funding can be as efficient as responsive NGOs. No method of organizing can be simpler than U. S. incorporation. No oversight to stop corruption is a thorough as the IRS. But keeping the message uplifted requires better cooperation from the American press corps.
Journalists think they look smart when they dish out dirt. We watched as they hounded Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana. We feel relief when they give certain humble characters a bye like Warren Buffet and Michelle Obama. As Our Revolution begins to receive millions of donations from everyday people, let us hope that the leaders of Our Revolution can confront the bullies of the press who earn paychecks from some of the least progressive of our institutions. And let us believe that corporate leadership is not always a one way street to corruption.