Presidency for Sale
UNRESTRICTED CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS HAVE MADE NATIONAL ELECTIONS A SHAM.
by Robert Scheer
All of my life, I have been hearing how it is my patriotic duty to vote in national elections, and I have dutifully gone along. Not just with voting but also devoting a good chunk of my professional career to interviewing the candidates and writing for major news organizations about their prospects for winning and qualifications for governing, as if those elections really mattered. Suddenly, I no longer feel like going along with what has become an all-too-obvious fraud.
The power of the superrich to buy our elections with their tens of millions in campaign contributions has become so blatant that it makes a mockery of the representative democracy about which we used to be able to proudly boast. For that fatal subversion of the system enshrined in our Constitution, you can thank a Republican packed Supreme Court that, with its Citizens United and other infamous decisions, has destroyed any prospect for an honest expression of the popular will.
As a result, the 2012 Presidential election will hinge on which party’s Super PACs get the most generous bribes from billionaires. The Republicans, long favored by the fat cats, are the main beneficiaries of the new laws. The GOP’s drawn-out primary campaign ended up having nothing to do with the plausibility of the political positions advanced by the various candidates and everything to do with which candidate’s Super PAC could draw the biggest checks from the superrich.
Take Newt Gingrich. Without the pro- Gingrich Super PAC stoked with two “gifts” totaling $21 million from billionaire Las Vegas casino and hotel magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Gingrich would not have existed as a credible candidate. The Adelsons are big supporters of Israel, and soon after that contribution, Gingrich said that as President he would support an Israeli strike on Iran even if it involved the use of nuclear weapons. But the foreign-policy fire sale is chicken feed compared to the domestic tax breaks and hobbling of environmental and banking regulations that most of the superrich donors are after.
Gingrich received another $1 million from Harold Simmons, the billionaire corporate raider who hedged his bet by also giving $7 million to another Super PAC called American Crossroads run by GOP kingmaker Karl Rove. Simmons owns industrial companies accused in the past of lead contamination and uranium emissions. But he makes money both ways, having been blessed by his friends in the government with mega-contracts to clean up hazardous waste sites, including waste created by his own companies.
Simmons claims to be a small-government conservative, but what he really wants is government to work for his interests at the expense of the folks who can’t pony up the big bucks. Toward that end, he had already given $14 million to various Republican Super PACs even before March of this election year.
The biggest beneficiary from the superrich has been Mitt Romney, and top executives from Bain Capital—the hedge fund he once ran—have been generous in support. Julian H. Robertson Jr., considered by the New York Times to be “one of the godfathers of the hedge fund industry,” is another megabucks backer of the pro-Romney Super PAC.
Hedge funds have been at the center of the rot of our economy; they are unregulated and, as Romney’s own tax returns demonstrate, pay a lower percentage in taxes than many ordinary income earners. No matter who wins on the Republican side, don’t expect any serious regulation of hedge fund greed or other accountability.
But the picture on the Democratic Obama side may turn out to be just as corrupt. It wasn’t until February 2012 that the President decided to accept Super PAC funding, previously calling it an assault on democracy. In his State of the Union speech two years ago, Obama called out the Supreme Court justices sitting before him over their decision to free special interests from campaign spending limits. “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests,” Obama declared then. “They should be decided by the American people.”
But as the GOP billionaires’ fund-raising steamroller threatened to flatten his 2012 reelection prospects, Obama turned the other cheek. He turned to the Wall Street crowd and asked them to hedge their political bets by backing him and not just his Republican opponents.
That is a deal Wall Street will accept because it means the fix is in. Without limits on how much the superrich can spend, they can buy both parties and remove any risk that their unbridled appetite for greed will ever be checked.
Hopefully I will be proven wrong, and an irate public—outraged by this unprecedented excess of political corruption—will rise up and find the will to throw the money changers out of their temples. But don’t count on it. These days, because of the treachery of the GOP-appointed Supreme Court, the charade of what passes for our democracy is reduced to one dollar, one vote.
Before serving almost 30 years as a Los Angeles Times columnist and editor, Robert Scheer spent the late 1960s as Vietnam correspondent, managing editor and editor in chief of Ramparts magazine. Now editor of TruthDig.com, Scheer has written such hardhitting books as The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America and his latest, The Great American Stick-Up: Greedy Bankers and the Politicians Who Love Them.