Seven super-rich men, five SuperPACs, $40 million
Leave it to Bill Moyers, one of America's most useful citizens, to sum up our country's present political plight in a succinct metaphor: "Our elections have replaced horse racing as the sport of kings. These kings are multi-billionaire, corporate moguls who by divine right -- not of God, but [of the Supreme Court's] Citizens United decision -- are now buying politicians like so much pricey horseflesh."
Pricey, indeed. In its disgraceful, democracy-crushing judicial edict of January 2010, the Court took the big advantage that America's corporate elite already had in politics -- and super-sized it. This is the first presidential election to be run under the rigged rules invented by the Court's five-man corporatist majority, and even though voting day is months away, we can already see the results of the thuggish power they bestowed on the moneyed few.
In this year's Republican nominating contests, a new, supremely-authorized critter not only arose, but instantly became the dominant force in the game, allowing a handful of extremely wealthy players to shove their selfish agenda ahead of all other interests in the election process: SuperPACs! These are secretive money funnels that various political partisans have set up to take advantage of the Court's implausible finding that the Constitution allows corporations and super-rich individuals to put unlimited sums of money into "independent" campaigns to elect or defeat whomever they choose. (I should note that the justices' ruling was a model of fairness in that it also allows poor people to put unlimited amounts of their money into SuperPACs.)
These new entities amassed and spent vastly more than the campaigns of the actual candidates. Nearly all of this SuperPAC cash was used to flood the airwaves with biblical levels of nauseatingly negative attack ads, further debasing our nation's democratic process. Thanks for that, Supremes.
The Court's surreal rationale for allowing this special-interest distortion of elections was that SuperPACs would be entirely independent from the candidates they back. In his Citizens United opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy blithely wrote: "We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption."
Wow, if ignorance is bliss, he must be ecstatic! Not only are SuperPACs and candidates tighter than the bark on a tree, but allowing unlimited special-interest money into campaigns is inherently corrupting.
Of course, these justices knew what they were doing: enthroning the wealthiest Americans, not merely to reign supreme over the political process, but also to control government. In a nation of 313 million people and an electorate of 217 million, fewer than a hundred uber-wealthy individuals and corporations (a tiny fraction of a fraction of even the 1 percent) shaped the GOP presidential debate and nomination to their personal benefit.
While the conventional media dwelled on such sideshows as the snarling nastiness among some of the candidates and whether or not Romney could get any love from the GOP's hard-right, Bible-pounding, social-issues faction--the million-dollar-plus givers to the SuperPACs were having one-on-one conversations with each candidate "in quiet rooms" (as Mitt Romney so-genteelly put it). There, they flexed their enormous money muscle to make certain that the core Republican agenda would be their own, squarely-focused on the narrow economic, financial, environ- mental, governmental, and international interests of the 0.01 percent.
As of May 4, this corporate clique had poured an unprecedented $94 million into the SuperPACs of the leading five GOP contenders (with $52 million of that going to Renew Our Future, Romney's money funnel). This firepower was all the more potent because it was targeted at only the few thousand voters in each state who participated in the caucuses and primaries. And it bought just what the moneybags wanted -- the lockstep commitment by all contenders that -- no matter how they might differ on abortion, gay-bashing, and such -- they would govern according to the Holy Kochian vision of a regulation-free, union-free, tax-free America. Thus, no matter which horse any of the multi-millionaires and billionaires bet on, they would cash-in as winners, for this tiny group now owns one of America's two major parties (and, yes, often rents the other).
The result is a suicidal diversion of our country's political process from addressing the urgent needs of the majority (and of the country itself). Instead, the presidential and congressional debate has wandered down the rabbit hole into the Mad Hatter's tea party, where the number one political priority is to protect and extend the wealth and power of the privileged class! There's an old-time word for this: plutocracy. Throughout our nation's history, that word has been an expletive, an anti-democratic abomination. Astonishingly, however, it's back with a vengeance. We see in Congress, in numerous state governments, in the media establishment, in corporate-funded academia, and now in the race for president an all-out push to ennoble rank plutocrats as "job creators," to emasculate the people's authority to control the narcissism of the rich, and to make American citizens swallow the lie that corporations are "people" with a constitutional right to purchase our democracy.
SuperPACs are only Wave One of the financial tsunami sweeping over America's politics this year. Wave Two, also authorized by Citizens United, will be even larger, for it allows Fortune 500 giants to siphon as much money as they want directly out of their corporate vaults and pour it into campaigns -- while keeping the sources of the money secret from voters. These totally secret, corporate political funds are laundered through outfits organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code as (WARNING: The following fact is so stupefying that it can cause temporary insanity in sensible people) non-profit "social welfare organizations" engaged in charitable work! Never mind that the welfare of the plutocracy is the cause being served by this perverse philanthropy.
At present, the largest of these is Crossroads GPS, created by the noted political altruist and GOP hatchet man Karl Rove. It alone expects to raise $240 million from undisclosed corporate interests and spend nearly all of it on venomous attack ads to defeat Barack Obama this fall. You'd need more than a GPS to find all the sources of Crossroads' cash, but it's known that nearly 90 percent of the $77 million it raised in the last six months of 2011 came from a couple of dozen donors chipping in from $1 million to $10 million each.Name that plutocrat!
If they're trying to purchase our elections, shouldn't we at least know who they are? At your service! In this issue of the Lowdown, we'll focus on the check writers fueling the SuperPACs, giving you a snapshot of the biggest of these heavy hitters, including indi-cations of what they want for their generosity. Let's start with the "Super-Duper Seven." Of the $94 million amassed by SuperPACs backing the major GOP wannabes (Romney, Santorum, Paul, Gingrich, and Perry), nearly half came from these seven men:
Sheldon Adelson, $21.5 million. "I'm against very wealthy people attempting to influence elections," Adelson asserted in Forbes magazine in February, "But as long as it's doable, I'm going to do it." Nice code of ethics there: It's wrong, but count me in. One of the 10 richest billionaires in our country, this 78-year-old longtime funder of Republicans and the ultra-right literally built his fortune on gaming the system. He now reigns over the Las Vegas Sands Corporation that runs luxury casinos in the US and China's special administrative region, Macau.