That whoosh you hear is the sound of money, gobs of it, flying from wellheeled donors to political candidates and “independent” committees on behalf of candidates. The roar is increasingly deafening especially when the money is coming from corporations and superPAC’s (and, to a lesser extent, labor unions. Corporations, Mitt Romney explains to us, are “people too,” and yesterday the Supreme Court affirmed that interpretation, meaning that the floodgates are welded open.
The issue before the Court was whether the 2010 Citizens United decision applied to a century-old Montana law limiting corporate contributions. Montana, no bastion of liberal reform, wanted to uphold a law that dated from a time when mining companies were throwing their monetary weight around, buying favorable governments and outcomes. And, that’s what we’re going to get more of at both state and federal levels with the reaffirmation and extension of Citizens United.
We’ve already seen the effect on the presidential campaign, though big money is not solely the province of corporations. Wealthy individuals can distort the political process as well, though it is somewhat gratifying that billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s multi-million contribution couldn’t buy the Republican nomination for Newt Gingrich. Now he has given another $10 million to a super PAC backing Romney, but the GOP isn’t alone on the receiving end. Big money buys access, no matter the party of the candidate.
The White House says it’s disappointed by the Supreme Court decision but won’t unilaterally disarm. Its superPAC will continue raising unlimited money. Of course, Obama took the same position in 2008, refusing public monies for the election in order to avoid the resulting constraints. That calculation (running against campaign finance reformer John McCain) effectively ended public financing of Presidential campaigns.
In Massachusetts’ 2010 election, independent organizations, including labor, spent about $18 million, half of which came from the Republican Governors’ Association in support of Scott Brown. It will be interesting to see if Brown’s pact with Elizabeth Warren to keep outside money out will hold through the fall election.
It’s staggering to contemplate the several millions that President Obama collected yesterday in Boston. One event cost $40,000 a head; another, nearly $18,000. According to the Boston Globe, Obama has raised only half the allowed individual $2500 contributions he did four years ago. But the huge individual donations are permissible when they are divided among the party’s National Committee, state committees, and other joint committees, like the Obama Victory Fund. (It reminds me of the slicing and dicing of collateralized debt obligations, including mortgage-backed securities.)
Last weekend Mitt Romney rewarded big donors with a lavish retreat at a resort in Utah, where those who had personally given at least $25,000 or had raised at least $100,000 could mingle with top GOP office holders and other movers and shakers. Similar events were also being held at Carlsbad and Beverly Hills. This, according to the L.A. Times.
It’s enough to make one’s head spin. And it drives home the depressing message that ordinary folks can’t possibly matter. Thanks, U.S. Supreme Court. We owe much of the sordid mess to you.
But then again we owe it to ourselves. As Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley aptly said in 1901, “No matter whether th’ Constitution follows h’flag or not, th’ Supreme Coort follows th’ election returns.”
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