"The open secret that everybody knows, but is not talking about, is that the lion's share of political donations come from the `wealthiest` top one percent in the country," Mahajan explains. "Most of that money comes from wealthy individuals rather than corporations. But they are really interchangeable, because they are same people who are in charge of corporations or own them. No candidate who has a platform that does not appeal to this corporate elite has a chance of getting enough money to win a major race."
Mahajan's Republican and Democratic rivals will set a new record on campaign spending: more than $100 million combined . According to political watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, incumbent Republican Governor Rick Perry raised $34.3 million from June 1997 through June 2002. The energy/natural resources and finance industries lead the pack of Perry's corporate donors, with the infamous Enron coming in sixth place.
Democratic challenger, Tony Sanchez — whose personal wealth from oil and banking interests is estimated at about $600 million — has already spent $53 million of his own money, and could spend up to $100 million. He has self-financed 89 percent of his campaign spending, with an additional $3.4 million from external sources, led by two major plaintiff law firms.
Sanchez' press spokesperson Becky Bunn said that his personal wealth makes him independent of corporate influence, "He does not need to take money from companies, and does not need companies to lobby him nor `does he need to` listen to those lobbies, because he has no need for their campaign contributions."
But Mahajan contends that "the claim that Sanchez is less vulnerable to corporate interests than Perry, because he is wealthy, takes a lot of gall — it clearly shows the problem with the system — you must either be wealthy or pander to the wealthy in order to get elected."
Mahajan, a physicist and freelance writer, has raised and spent about $2,000; most of it, he says, came from individuals, with donations ranging from $10 to $250. (As of press time, the Ethics Commission had not yet posted the latest campaign finance returns for state races.)
The dominance of wealth over Texas politics is apparent in its taxation. According to a recent study by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the top 20 percent income earners in Texas paid five percent of their income to state and local taxes, while the lowest 20 percent paid 18 percent. The unfairness of Texas' tax system results from an over-reliance on sales tax and the absence of state income tax. Since low-income families spend more of their income on consumption (thus, paying sales tax) than their higher income counterparts, the tax burden falls on those that can least afford it.
Texas government faces a $5 to 12 billion budget shortfall. "Everyone is talking about it, but virtually no one is saying anything sensible about how to fix it," Mahajan claims. "The sensible approach starts with the realization that Texas' tax system is not just archaic and outmoded, it is steeply regressive."
Mahajan proposes to reverse the tax burden and shift it from low-income families to higher-income ones. He says his plan would "not only overcome the current budget shortfalls, but Texas would actually be able to fund a massive increase in social services. If you are going to argue that the rich can't afford to pay 18 percent in state and local taxes, then why exactly are we doing that now to the poor?"
His plan would reduce the sales tax and institute a progressive state income tax and corporate income tax. "Everybody gets upset when they hear 'state income tax,' but if they understand that, for the majority of them, it is part of a package that actually reduces their total tax burden, and that is simply taking more money away from the people who can most afford it, I think people would get on board behind it, but nobody talks about this, because this isn't the kind of reasoning that the wealthy want to get out there to the public."
Perry's campaign office didn't return numerous inquiries about taxation for this story.
Sanchez' press spokesperson stated that the challenger has "no proposals to restructure the tax system for the state of Texas."
To release the political process from wealthy and corporate control, Mahajan suggests that, "we start by eliminating corporations from the political process and establish very clearly that this is a democracy — not a plutocracy, not a country run by corporations. This requires not just a direct ban on corporations, but also a serious cap on individual donations from the wealthy."
Many polls, Business Week reports, show that the majority of Americans believe that corporations have "too much power." Mahajan's rivals in the gubernatorial race remain silent on this critical issue. In the post-Enron era, such silence sends a message, loud and clear.