6 Steps to Defund the GOP and Restore Democracy

Reagan Defunded the Democratic Party in 1981: It’s Time to Return the Favor

Thom Hartmann
5 min readJan 30, 2021


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Forty years ago this month, Reagan and his buddies decided they’d strip the Democratic Party of most of its funding. And their audacious plan worked.

Now that Democrats control Congress and the White House, they have an opportunity to turn the tables and defund the Republican Party with six simple steps.

First, some background.

In the 1970s, the Democratic Party was principally funded by working-class people through America’s labor unions, and the Republican Party got most of its money from big business and wealthy individuals.

America’s political system got a major shake up in 1976 and 1978: The US Supreme Court ruled in two cases those years that when billionaires or giant corporations owned politicians, that was no longer considered “corruption” or “bribery” as it had been since the founding of our republic.

The wise conservatives on the US Supreme Court ruled in the Buckley and Bellotti decisions that when rich people or corporations showered their favorite politicians with cash, that money wasn’t actually “money.” Instead, the Court ruled, that cash was actually “speech,” and pouring cash down a politician’s throat was simply First Amendment-protected “free speech.”

These two decisions, the second written by Lewis Powell himself, unleashed a tsunami of corporate and billionaire* cash that flowed into the GOP in the late 1970s and floated Ronald Reagan into office in 1980. (SCOTUS conservatives, over the loud, unanimous objections of the Court’s Democratic-nominated justices, doubled-down on these decisions with Citizens United in 2010.)

In the 1970s Democrats got most of their funding from working-class Americans via their labor unions, so the Party didn’t take much notice then of those two decisions that opened up politics for rich people and corporations. The unions were so awash in money that a few corrupt union bosses were even skimming some off the top.

So when Reagan became president, he set out to destroy the Democratic Party’s main source of funding: labor unions.



Thom Hartmann

America’s #1 progressive talk show host & NY Times bestselling author. Thom’s writings also appear at HartmannReport.com.