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Monday, February 07, 2011

Auction House Democracy

You've probably heard the name, now meet the Koch Brothers, as introduced by Jane Mayer on NPR's Fresh Air (Video courtesy of Crooks and Liars):

OK, so a couple of rightwing nutjobs are giving money to the GOP -- who else would these days? There are two possible intentions in giving a political donation and it always pays to keep this in mind. People will give to candidates or parties because they agree with them, which only makes sense. If candidate Bob believes what you believe, you're going to want him to win. So you're going to do what you can to help him.

The other intention is as a legal bribe. If candidate Bob is sort of squishy on your issues, then maybe a big campaign contribution will give him an incentive to be a little more solidly on your side. Where the first intention is the political system as it was meant to operate, the second is corruption -- and there's a very fine line between the two. Unfortunately, both are legal. Which only makes sense, since it would be nearly impossible to distinguish between the two with any level of certainty.

But it's when that fine line has clearly been crossed that we have reason to fear for democracy. With the Citizens United ruling allowing unlimited campaign contributions from corporate entities, our political leadership is blatantly for sale. It's a buyers' market for political power these days and the Koch Brothers are taking advantage of it.

Los Angeles Times:

The billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch no longer sit outside Washington's political establishment, isolated by their uncompromising conservatism. Instead, they are now at the center of Republican power, a change most evident in the new makeup of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Wichita-based Koch Industries and its employees formed the largest single oil and gas donor to members of the panel, ahead of giants like Exxon Mobil, contributing $279,500 to 22 of the committee's 31 Republicans, and $32,000 to five Democrats.

Nine of the 12 new Republicans on the panel signed a pledge distributed by a Koch-founded advocacy group — Americans for Prosperity — to oppose the Obama administration's proposal to regulate greenhouse gases. Of the six GOP freshman lawmakers on the panel, five benefited from the group's separate advertising and grass-roots activity during the 2010 campaign.

"Claiming an electoral mandate, Republicans on the committee have launched an agenda of the sort long backed by the Koch brothers," the article goes on. "A top early goal: restricting the reach of the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the Kochs' core energy businesses."

Want to know what it looks like when you cross that fine line between simple political involvement in democracy and corruption? I give you the 112th congress in the House of Representatives. There was a "For Sale" sign on the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2010, which was bought and paid for by the Koch brothers. In one case, that fine line was clearly crossed, with Michigan Rep. Fred Upton -- formerly an environmental moderate -- becoming a new convert to Koch Industries philosophy of as little regulation as possible of polluters. Make no mistake, this isn't simple lobbying, this is corruption -- legal though it may be.

Democracy in America was already pretty much theoretical before Citizens United. When George W. Bush came out of Texas to launch his presidential campaign, he brought with him an unprecedented $100 million in early fundraising. By April 2004, that number had become quaint -- Bush had doubled that sum. In 2008, Barack Obama raised $750 million in direct campaign contributions. As the cost of political campaigns outpaces the rate of inflation to a massive degree, those big money donors become more and more in important. And as they rise in importance, they rise in influence. Meanwhile, your twenty, fifty, one hundred bucks is nothing and your influence -- the actual voter who these people are supposedly elected to represent -- falls.

Unless things change, the United States might as well stop pretending it's a democracy, and just put candidates up for auction -- the one who fetches the highest price wins. The sad part is that this isn't drastically different from they way we do things now.


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