When the Supreme Court struck down the core of our country’s campaign finance laws in 2010, in the landmark Citizens United case, most of America didn’t take notice. After all, politicians already looked too cozy with the wealthy donors who bankrolled their elections. How much worse could it get?
Plenty. Even as super PAC spending was set to break the $100 million mark before Memorial Day, it was easy to consider corruption less pressing than issues like finding a job. But this election cycle is showing us how a rigged democracy produces a rigged economy — and how the ironically named Citizens United decision now stacks the deck against the 99 percent of Americans still working too hard to make ends meet.
How have things gone from bad to worse?
First, these “independent expenditures” are proving to be anything but independent. Restore Our Future is known openly as former Gov. Mitt Romney’s PAC, and he’s its chief fundraising draw. The PAC is staffed by former Romney aides, and its treasurer is Romney’s former general counsel from 2008. Oil billionaire Harold Hamm gave $985,000 to the “independent” PAC one month after Romney named him as chairman of his Energy Policy Advisory Group.
Second, their size is exploding. Romney’s super PAC alone spent $46 million before Memorial Day — more than all the outside groups combined in the past election cycle. This allowed Romney to outspend Rick Santorum’s grass-roots campaign by 400 percent during the pivotal Ohio primary — which Romney won by just 1 point.
Third, people writing million-dollar checks are not neutral observers without a financial stake in the policy debates of the day. As of mid-May, 15 organizations backed by these individuals had contributed more than $1 million each to Romney through his super PAC. Of those donors, 10 are hedge fund managers or investment holding companies that stand to profit handsomely from tax loopholes and financial deregulation that they are now actively promoting to Romney. This is about a return on investment. Small donors can’t afford to play at this table.
Restore Our Future then funnels these mega-donations into campaign ads with populist themes about job creation. But the real agenda is a disaster for middle-class and working-class Americans.
Consider the “carried interest tax loophole,” a special deal that exempts the fund managers who bankrolled the ad from paying the 35 percent income tax on the bulk of their compensation. Romney’s top donors instead pay a much lower 15 percent, and leave the middle class to pick up the $10 billion tab. A hedge fund manager with $100 million in gains could save as much as $25 million in taxes — not a bad return on the investment in Romney’s candidacy.
As consumers were taking it on the chin at the gas pumps this spring, oil speculators profited from the price spikes. And worse, a leaked document showed the new profits were funneled directly into ads attacking President Barack Obama for trying to close tax subsidies for big oil companies — thanks to Citizens United. This Orwellian twist was lost on most voters, because there’s no obligation to disclose the donors behind these attacks.
Before Citizens United, corporations were banned from making contributions to candidates running for federal office, and individuals were limited in how much money they could contribute. Citing this decision, an appellate court then effectively removed any limits on individual or corporate contributions to candidates, by allowing this money to go to groups clearly identified with the candidate. The court reasoned that contributions given to outside organizations could not be corruptive in the same way that money given directly to the candidates can be.
Now, super PACS are actively accepting unlimited contributions from individuals, unions and corporations. The vast majority of Americans have never had the influence of the powerful — but what was once an uneven playing field now resembles Mount Everest.
A Congress elected by the people can take immediate steps. The DISCLOSE 2012 Act will require super PACs to list their top donors as part of any advertisements and provide for more timely disclosure of all donors after large expenditures.
But the larger burden lies with the Supreme Court. A majority of its nine justices now or in the future must reclaim our democracy from the highest bidder and hand it back to the American people. This tightly rigged political process will only exacerbate the growing insecurity of our working and middle class.
This elections season, we would all be wise to tune out the flood of nasty political spots. But we must not ignore the buying and selling of influence it represents — and how this system silences the voices of the American people.
By: Tom Perriello and Amy Rosenbaum, Politico, May 29, 2012
It seems birtherism is now back in full force. This can only mean there is an election coming up, and that the Republicans really, really need to court their worst and foulest supporters. If they can’t impress them with the sack of nothingness that is Mitt Romney, then they’ll at least point out that that other guy is, you know, suspicious.
First we had Donald Trump and his newfound dedication to birtherism, apparently as a direct response to people paying attention to him again. Among the people paying most attention: Mitt Romney, who for some reason is embracing fellow crapsack Trump instead of, say, avoiding him like a communicable disease. There’s still no obvious explanation for this, but apparently Romney really needs Trump voters (gawd help us, I don’t even want to know who those might be. Probably people who watch Jersey Shore, but think it isn’t vapid enough).
This has led to an interesting dance in which Team Mitt simultaneously cuddles up to the now-notorious birther and angrily denounces anyone who points that rather goddamn obvious fact out. Surrogate John Sununu was very, very surly with CNN for having Donald Trump on the teevee the same day as Trump’s event with Romney:
“Why is CNN so fixated on this?” Sununu, the former New Hampshire Governor, asked CNN’s Soledad O’Brien. “It’s CNN that wants to bring this up. I don’t want to bring it up. Mitt Romney has made it clear that he believes President Obama was born in the U.S. You had Donald Trump on last night, and now you are asking the question this morning. It’s CNN’s fixation.”
Why is the media fixated on Trump being an embarrassing, conspiracy-addled loon who yells his conspiracy theories at any member of the media who will listen? Gosh, I don’t know, Mr. Sununu, but it seems a bit like Mitt Romney holding an event with the Florida face-eating cannibal, but then getting mad if anyone mentions the face-eating part.
Donald Trump’s sole contribution to the discourse of late is public birtherism. That’s it. That’s his schtick. A far betterquestion would be why CNN feels any need whatsoever to talk to John Sununu about it. Who the hell cares what John Sununu thinks?
But even as Trump’s newest push into birtherism gets rave reviews from other conservative crackpots, Trump’s far from the only one involved here. Birtherism is resurgent in the entire Republican Party now. While Mitt Romney plays the hug-the-birther game, now Michigan Senate candidate and former congressperson Pete Hoekstra thinks birtherism needs to be elevated to the level of government function:
Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), who is running for Senate to take on Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, told a tea party town hall last month that the federal government should establish an official committee to review presidential candidates’ birth certificates. [...]“Sure. I mean, I think — you know, I think, throw something at me if you want, I think with this president, the book is closed, all right?” Hoekstra tells the man. “It’s kind of like, I hate to say it, but I think the debate’s over — we lost that debate, and we lost that debate in 2008, when our presidential nominee said, ‘I ain’t talking about it.’ OK, I’m sorry.”
Note that Hoekstra doesn’t think the debate’s over because the evidence came in, thus rendering the entire debate pointless and stupid. He just thinks the debate’s over because John McCain didn’t talk about it enough. So now the small government (pfft) conservative wants a new government committee to review what already gets reviewed, just to make super-duper-extra-sure no secret Kenyan is trying to pull a fast one with the secret help of every damn functionary in the Hawaii state government. Goodie.
So is Mitt talking about this stuff? Of course he is. He’s talking about it in that lovely, not-really-talking-about-it way that has characterized his entire relationship with Donald Trump. Why, Mitt Romney just released his birth certificate, in an apparent attempt to prove absolutely nothing to absolutely nobody.
Yes, Republican Mitt Romney appears eligible to be president, according to a copy of Romney’s birth certificate released to Reuters by his campaign. Willard Mitt Romney, the certificate says, was born in Detroit on March 12, 1947.His mother, Lenore, was born in Utah and his father, former Michigan governor and one-time Republican presidential candidate George Romney, was born in Mexico.
Yes, Mitt Romney’s dad was born in Mexico. Want to see the birth certificate? That’s it up there at the top of the post.
Oh, Lord. Now I ask you, does that really prove anything? First off, using my special sleuthing powers I have discovered that it says “VOID” all down both sides of the page! And it was only printed in January of this year! And did they really have that typeface back in 1947? And look at the way the sheet is cut off, on the left, and how the whole page is slanted towards the left, as if it were trying to tell us something? It is obviously not a legitimate certificate that proves a darn thing, leading to the obvious question: Was Mitt Romney really born at all? Let’s ask Donald Trump’s rear end to weigh in on this.
That’s a trick question, of course. The answer is that Mitt Romney is really, really white (Pay no attention to the Mexican heritage, that was just something to do with Mitt’s ancestors fleeing the United States to practice—you know what? Never mind. Stuff happened, let’s just leave it at that.) and that people who look sufficiently white are automatically “true” Americans because conservatism really is just that dull and shallow.
By: Hunter, Daily Kos, May 30, 2012
What could Romney’s handlers be thinking when they hyped his connection with Donald Trump — fundraising with Trump, offering supporters the possibility of a meal with Trump, relishing Trump’s attention and endorsement?
Trump signifies everything Romney presumably doesn’t want people to associate with himself — conspicuous wealth, arrogance, hubris, and a distinct preference for money over all other human values.
Trump, like Romney, represents almost everything that’s wrong with the American economy today — an unprecedented amount of wealth and power at the very top, widespread insecurity and declining real wages for everyone else, and a form of casino capitalism that places huge bets with other peoples’ money and depends on everyone else to bail it out when the bets turn sour.
But wait a minute. Perhaps Romney’s handlers are smarter than they seem. Maybe Mitt has decided to let it all hang out. Rather than try to hide what’s obvious to everyone, the new strategy is to make Romney’s liabilities into assets by flaunting them. Be even bigger and bolder. Money rules!
In fact, they’re mulling an even bigger and bolder move. They recall how Bill Clinton’s choice of Al Gore as running mate in 1992 — someone very much like Clinton — accentuated Clinton’s youthful energy, the new generation he represented, and the new start Clinton wanted to give America.
So they figure Mitt’s choice of Trump as running mate will allow Mitt to celebrate his boundless capacity to make money, the “I’ve got mine and the hell with you” financiers and CEOs he represents, and the social Darwinism that he and the regressive right are convinced will be good for America.
The new bumper-sticker: ROMNEY-TRUMP IN 2012. YOU’RE FIRED!
By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, May 29, 2012
“Where In The World Is Blago?”: Scott Walker Transfers $160,000 In Campaign Contributions To Mysterious Legal Defense Fund
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is diverting campaign donations to bankroll his legal defense fund. For what charges does he need a legal defense? He won’t say.
The three-year long investigation is targeting Walker employees who may have committed a host of corrupt activities — accusations include embezzlement, coercion, and use of taxpayer funds for campaign work. According to the Huffington Post, “Mike Tate, the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, says state law permits Walker to set up such a fund only if he is charged or under investigation for election or campaign violations.”
No one knows exactly if any allegations have been leveled against Walker, or what those might be. However, at the beginning of this year, a Walker appointee and staffer were both arrested and charged with felony embezzlement. Another Walker supporter — one of his funders — was convicted with exceeding campaign spending limits. Whatever Walker’s legal exposure, he is concerned enough to divert substantial campaign funds to his legal defense just days before the election.
Walker’s latest campaign finance report filed with the state on Tuesday shows transfers of $70,000 and $30,000 out of his campaign account to the Scott Walker Trust. He previously transferred $60,000 into the account.
His Democratic challenger in Tuesday’s recall election Tom Barrett has repeatedly called on Walker to disclose who is paying for his legal defense fund. Walker has refused to say.
The Governor is required by law to have donors sign off on a transfer of funds, but the Walker campaign will not reveal who those people are. It has been a contentious issue in the lead up to the June 5 recall election, in which Walker has recently found himself in a dead heat, according to some polling. Other pools show Walker with a narrow lead.
By: Annie-Rose Strasser, Think Progress, May 30, 2012
Recalls and impeachments are a remedy of last resort. Most of the time, voters who don’t like an incumbent choose to live with the offending politician until the next election, on the sensible theory that fixed terms of office and regular elections are adequate checks on abuses of power and extreme policies.
The question facing Wisconsin’s citizens is whether Republican Gov. Scott Walker engaged in such extraordinary behavior that setting aside his election is both justified and necessary.
Voters don’t have to get to this large question. Walker’s opponents forced next Tuesday’s recall vote by using the state’s laws in an entirely legitimate way. They gathered far more petition signatures than they needed, signaling that discontent in the state was widespread.
The result has been a fairly conventional campaign in which Walker once again confronts his 2010 opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D). At this point, preferring Barrett, an affable, moderate liberal, to the conservative firebrand Walker is reason enough to vote the incumbent out, but the broader case for recall is important.
Walker is being challenged not because he pursued conservative policies but because Wisconsin has become the most glaring example of a new and genuinely alarming approach to politics on the right. It seeks to use incumbency to alter the rules and tilt the legal and electoral playing field decisively toward the interests of those in power.
The most obvious way of gaming the system is to keep your opponents from voting in the next election. Rigging the electorate is a surefire way of holding on to office. That is exactly what has happened in state after state — Wisconsin is one of them — where GOP legislatures passed new laws on voter identification and registration. They are plainly aimed at making it much more difficult for poorer, younger and minority voters to get or stay on the voter rolls and to cast ballots when Election Day comes.
Rationalized by claims of extensive voter fraud that are invented out of whole cloth, these measures are discriminatory in their effect and partisan in their purpose. On their own, they are sufficient cause for the electorate to rise up and cry, “Stop!”
But Walker and his allies did more than this in Wisconsin. They also sought to undermine one of the Democratic Party’s main sources of organization. They sharply curtailed collective bargaining by most public employee unions and made it harder for these organizations to maintain themselves over time, notably by requiring an almost endless series of union elections.
The attack on unions was carried out in the name of saving state and local government money. But there is a big difference between, on the one hand, bargaining hard with the unions and demanding more reasonable pension agreements, and, on the other, trying to undercut the labor movement altogether. In the wake of the recession, mayors and governors of both parties have had to demand a lot from their unions. For Democrats, this often involved unions that helped elect them to office.
That is one of the reasons the party is well-represented in the recall by Barrett: He has been a tough negotiator in Milwaukee, to the consternation of some of its public employees. In the Democratic primary, unions spent heavily on behalf of Barrett’s main opponent, former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk. Although labor is now fully behind Barrett, Walker simply cannot cast his opponent as a captive of the movement. No wonder the Republican is closing his campaign with a demagogic ad on crime in Milwaukee. Walker knows he can’t win the last swing votes he needs on the basis of his record and his stand on collective bargaining.
The paradox of Wisconsin is that, although recalling a governor would be unusual, Barrett is the candidate of regular order, of consensual politics, Wisconsin-style. Wisconsin has had successful conservative governors before, Republican Tommy Thompson prominent among them. They enacted conservative policies without turning the state upside down. They sought to win over their opponents rather than to inhibit their capacity to oppose.
Walker seems to enjoy a slight advantage in the polls, having vastly outspent his foes up to now. Barrett, however, should have enough money to level the competition in the final days. This recall should not have had to happen. But its root cause was not the orneriness of Walker’s opponents but a polarizing brand of conservative politics that most Americans, including many conservatives, have good reason to reject.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 30, 2012