by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
October 17, 2010
KILLING DEMOCRACY, ONE DOLLAR AT A TIME
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Back in January, I wrote about the Supreme Court's decision to grant corporations - in the name of preserving free speech - the right to spend unlimited sums of money in political campaigns.
At the time, I wrote that "you don't need a crystal ball to foresee a flood of extra dollars into the 2010 congressional elections and that Republican candidates will be the main beneficiaries."
I am afraid I understated the case.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other Republican front groups are dumping hundreds of millions of dollars of untraceable corporate contributions into the midterm election.
Financial, energy and health care companies are pouring money into independent. nominally nonprofit political groups that are exempt from what few campaign finance laws that are left. And Democrats are getting outspent by a 5-to-1 margin by these groups in this election.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone plans to spend $75 million to support Republican candidates. Another group run by Karl "Bush's Brain" Rove, called American Crossroads, has pulled in about $32 million as of mid-September and is spending freely on conservative candidates it favors. Another group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity, plans to spend $45 million in this election.
This money - some of it possibly coming from foreign sources - is funding a barrage of attack ads almost exclusively directed at Democrats. Under current campaign law, these front groups don't have to reveal who is funding their ads, and naturally, Republicans in Congress are blocking legislation that would require this.
Conservative business people throwing money around to advance their cause of lower taxes and less regulation is nothing new. But what we are seeing this year is nothing short of a corporate coup d'etat.
Not content with seeing the candidates they support completely shut down the political process and prevent President Obama from pushing through his agenda, they want to ensure that even more obstructionists and reactionaries are elected on Nov. 2 to begin their long cherished goal of rolling back the 20th century.
The Tea Party folks are the useful idiots being exploited by the monied interests. Working Americans have been under assault for more than three decades and that aforementioned $300 million being spent by conservative groups in this election isn't being done to benefit the average American. It's being done to make the rich richer and more powerful. That's why Wall Street was bailed out, while Main Street has been left to starve.
This what I feared back in January when the Citizens United decision came down. We now have a fearsome mix of an unprecedented gap between rich and poor, an unprecedented amount of money flooding into our political process, and an unprecedented level of anger directed at our public and political institutions.
And I don't think that the few honest people who remain in public life truly understand what's happening. Under attack is the very idea that government exists as a countervailing force against the rich and powerful to ensure that every individual gets a fair shake.
From health care to education to investing in public infrastructure, all government activities are under attack.
From the minimum wage to Social Security, from consumer protection to environmental regulation, from civil rights laws to marriage equality, every single advance that has been made over the past century is now up for grabs.
The people fueling the sound and fury of those who would take our country backwards are the same entrenched and privileged interests who have fought against reform that benefits the many. From the age of Teddy Roosevelt and the trust busters to the age of Teddy Kennedy and the fight to preserve the social safety net, the big money has always stood in the way of progress.
And now, thanks to the Supreme Court, they think they can buy themselves a Congress, and maybe even a president in 2012.
As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent of the Citizens United decision, "While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics." He warned that removing limits on corporate money "threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation."
We are reaping that whirlwind now. Whether our democracy will survive this onslaught of uncontrollable and unaccountable greed is a legitimate question to ask.
That's why we need public financing of elections, legislation that would regulate the anonymous funding of attack ads and a constitutional amendment that would reverse the perverted idea that corporations are legally entitled to the same rights as an individual and that would prevent them from raising or spending money on federal, state, or local elections of any kind.
These small but important steps are the only way we can stop the complete transformation of our democracy into a government of, by and for the corporations that has no concern for democracy and the public interest, with a Congress totally bought and paid for by monied interests.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.