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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

GOP: T-Shirts -- Not Unlimited and Secret Corporate Cash -- are Destroying Democracy

Obama t-shirt
Two stories provide an excellent example of what's wrong with our system of campaign finance. The first is an example of one of the almost daily Republican freakouts over nonexistent scandals. The second demonstrates the scandalous state of our campaign finance system -- and how that's just fine.

First example first:

Wall Street Journal:

At a New York fund-raising event Tuesday called "Runway to Win," President Barack Obama's re-election campaign plans to begin selling campaign-themed tote bags, T-shirts and accessories designed by more than two dozen famous designers.

Attendees can purchase a tote bag designed by Derek Lam for $75. A collectible makeup bag created by Richard Blanch with nail polish in Red-y To Win Red, Victory White and Bo Blue is going for $40. And a silk scarf featuring Mr. Obama's likeness by Thakoon Panichgul is $95. Profits from the sales will go to Mr. Obama's campaign chest.

Republicans contend the sale might violate campaign-finance rules. The gear will sell for a fraction of the price the designers' merchandise typically fetches at department stores. Republicans say that suggests they relied on corporate resources to keep costs low, which could amount to illegal campaign contributions. On Mr. Lam's website, handbags range in price from $340 to $1,890. The three scarves offered on Mr. Thakoon's website go for $325 apiece.


Of course, when it comes to what Republicans say the gear is really worth, they're dishonestly comparing apples to oranges. Yes, a leather bag can go for as much as $1,890, but we're talking cheap tote bags here. According to the report, "the designers didn't spend much time on the items, which are also cheap to make. Out are leather straps and linen shirts, more typical of their designer goods. In are canvas bags and cotton T-shirts."

But imagine that; a $75 dollar fundraising item is the worst thing ever. Meanwhile:

...Super PACs established for the sole purpose of defeating the President—along with "nonprofits" that also aren't required to disclose the sources of their funding—have raised more than $50 million. In the aggregate, these groups are expected to spend half a billion dollars, above and beyond what the Republican nominee and party are expected to commit to try to defeat the President.

With so much at stake, we can't allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.

Therefore, the campaign has decided to do what we can, consistent with the law, to support Priorities USA in its effort to counter the weight of the GOP Super PAC. We will do so only in the knowledge and with the expectation that all of its donations will be fully disclosed as required by law to the Federal Election Commission.

Some on the right (and the left, for that matter) are accusing the president of hypocrisy, but that's the very worst they can do. We now live in a world where a $75 tote bag raises eyebrows, but millions in in-kind donations from secret donors with unknown agendas is just fine.

And think about that -- which donor level is closer to what you might give? What the GOP is arguing here is that you're a corrupting influence with your fancy forty dollar designer lipstick pack, while the millions from shadowy Super PACs are just freedom of speech and democracy in action. You're the problem, you designer t-shirt-wearing elitist. That big money spigot from polluters, Wall Street grifters, and various and sundry other less than trustworthy souls is totally above reproach. Perfectly legal. Nothing to get worked up over.

Let's be extremely clear here; the Republican's imaginary tote bag scandal is just one more step in their obvious plan to criminalize democracy. Add it to voter ID laws and laws designed to break unions (which are in turn designed to break union members' power). Every bit of electoral power you have is under attack, while the very, very wealthy are given free rein to do whatever the hell they want. More power to the wealthy, less power for you. Every time. Don't be surprised if, some time in the future, you're required to take a drug test before you're allowed to vote. After all, you're the problem because you can't be trusted.

It's hard to make the moral case for Team Obama's move here. But it's easy to argue that it was necessary. Look at it this way; if you say you're a peace-loving nation that doesn't want war, but you're invaded anyway, it hardly makes you a hypocrite when you start shooting back.

"The President opposed the Citizens United decision," reads the Obama campaign's press release. "He understood that with the dramatic growth in opportunities to raise and spend unlimited special-interest money, we would see new strategies to hide it from public view. He continues to support a law to force full disclosure of all funding intended to influence our elections, a reform that was blocked in 2010 by a unanimous Republican filibuster in the U.S. Senate. And the President favors action -- by constitutional amendment, if necessary -- to place reasonable limits on all such spending... But this cycle, our campaign has to face the reality of the law as it currently stands."

Hypocrisy doesn't come from fighting back. Hypocrisy comes from accepting the status quo as the new normal. If Obama has won when the smoke finally clears, we're going to have to remind him that it's time to disarm and radically reform campaign finance. Because it'll be all to easy to forget about dealing with Citizens United and accept this new, corrupt way of winning elections.


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