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Monday, June 11, 2012

Neutering Money in Politics

sack of moneyI know, I've already written about the "money had nothing to do with the Wisconsin recall results" argument. First, I pointed out why the media would be biased toward the Citizens United ruling that allows unlimited money to be poured into elections; i.e., they stand to make a bazillion dollars selling advertising to Super PACs. Then later, I also pointed out the obvious -- that if spending ungodly amounts of money on candidates' election campaigns didn't make any difference, the marketing-savvy billionaires, corporations, and Wall Street firms wouldn't do it.

I think I've done a pretty good job of showing why the "money had nothing to do with it argument" doesn't even make sense and why people have a vested interest in pushing it. But I'll let Sen. Bernie Sanders, by way of John Nichols, explain what it means:

“There is,” the senator says, “an aggressiveness out there among the ruling class of this country, among the billionaires who are saying: ‘You know what? Ya, we got a whole lot now, but we want even more. And we don’t give a damn about the middle class. We don't care about working families. We want it all. And now we can buy it.’ ”


Referring to Wisconsin as a “testing ground” for the no-limits campaign spending that has been ushered in by the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, Sanders said, “I have a deep concern that what we saw in Wisconsin can happen in any state throughout this country and in the presidential election.”

“I think that people do not fully understand the disaster that Citizens United was,” Sanders said of the 5–4 US Supreme Court decision in radio conversation with Ed Schultz. “What that did is open the floodgates so that billionaires like the Koch brothers and others are now prepared to spend unbelievable sums of money to elect extreme right-wing candidates.”

"Right now, we are moving toward an oligarchic type of society where big money not only controls the economy—they’re going to have a very, very heavy say in who gets elected," Sanders said.

Already, conservatives openly dream of the day when government is just a shill for corporate interests -- the ultimate Super PAC. "In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks," Rep. Spencer Bacchus once infamously said. A depressing enough statement, even if you don't consider that he's the Chairman of the House Finance Committee.

Unfortunately, many see the post-Citizens United landscape as the new normal and believe the left merely needs to adapt. "I've long said that Republicans didn't beat Democrats in 2010, Karl Rove and [the] Koch brothers did after the Citizens United decision," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Chairman Steve Israel said after Walker's victory in Wisconsin. "Democratic allies and donors should not allow that to happen again this cycle. Democratic groups won't outspend Republican groups, but they can keep us in the fight." Israel said it was time for Democrats to wage "aggressive air campaigns" to compete in this new, rigged system.

Better would be the return to a level playing field. In the best case scenario, I believe that lying in campaign ads should be illegal -- with mandatory prison sentences, not fines. But of course it would be difficult to prove the difference between a lie and a mistake, so my best case scenario is probably a pipe dream.

But getting rid of elections for sale -- that can be done. People don't like it. If we can convince people that the candidate with the most money is the most likely to be corrupt, we can get somewhere. Instead of proudly trying to buy an election, a candidate should find it a source of shame. The one with all the money is probably the crook. Say it with me; the one with all the money is probably the crook. Democrat or Republican, the one with all the money is probably the crook.

Because that's the challenge. The problem with vast amounts of money in elections is that it works. And, since it works, the people elected that way have absolutely zero incentive to change anything. After all, they bought this one and they can just buy the next one. The people who want to buy elections will just buy candidates who support buying elections. What we need to do is to get people to realize that money is making democracy sick, that big money donors mean corruption, and that big money in politics is synonymous with corruption. Make money a handicap; the one with all the money is probably the crook.

"This is not the time to [throw your hands up in despair]. This is not the time to do that," Bernie Sanders said. "This is the time to organize for the taking on all of this money."


[image credit: from an image by 401k, via Flickr]

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