mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The 100 Rich People Who Run America”: The Ultra-Wealthy Have Taken Over The Political System

We are well past the point that anyone will be shocked or even surprised by how distorted our system of funding campaigns has become, but thanks to some excellent reporting by Ken Vogel at Politico, we now have some interesting new perspective.

We have reached a tipping point where mega donors completely dominate the landscape. The 100 largest donors in the 2014 cycle gave almost as much money to candidates as the 4.75 million people who gave $200 or less (and certainly that number goes from “almost” to “more” if we could include contributions that are not required by law to be disclosed).

Think about this for a minute. This is consequential. It means that candidates running for office are genuflecting before an audience of 100 wealthy individuals to fuel their campaigns. So, whose bidding do we think these candidates are going to do? Is it any wonder that the interests of large corporations and unions get to the front of the line?

Liberal Democrats like to blow their bugles about how all the big money in politics comes from rich Republicans. Actually, as Vogel points out, 52 of the 100 top donors are Democrats, and the No. 1 donor by far is Democrat Tom Steyer, who chipped in $74 million.

At least we’ve achieved some bipartisanship somewhere in our political ecosphere. Both parties are now equal opportunity offenders when it comes to gaming the system.

But I don’t fault Steyer or the Koch brothers for trying to exert their influence on politics and public policy. They have strongly held beliefs and issues they care about deeply, and they are simply spending a lot of their money to try and change things in a direction they believe would be better. Nothing illegal or unethical about that.

But let’s call the system that Citizens United and other rulings and laws have created what it is: an oligarchy. The system is controlled by a handful of ultra-wealthy people, most of whom got rich from the system and who will get richer from the system.

Supporters of the system believe that the $3.67 billion we spent on elections last cycle isn’t really all that much money. An Arkansas poultry company owner and big time political donor, Ronnie Cameron, reflected to Vogel that it’s not so different today than it’s been in the past when, “Our country was founded by the wealthy landowners having the authority and representing all the people.”

He said that out loud. To a reporter. Knowing other people might read those words. Without any apparent irony. Imagine all the poor Americans who will sleep better knowing that a rich Southern chicken farmer is happy to represent their interests.

Vogel gets to the heart of the problem though, reporting that, “When all the donations are tallied and analyzed, 2014 is likely to be noteworthy for two other milestones on the opposite end of the spectrum from the growth of mega-donations: It’s on pace to be the first mid-term election since 1990—the earliest cycle for which the Center for Responsive Politics performed such an analysis—in which the overall number of traceable donations declined. It’s also likely to be the first midterm since 1990 when the candidates’ campaigns spent less than the preceding midterm election.

The decline in candidate spending, though, is more than offset by the increase in spending by super PACs and other groups that can accept huge contributions from the ultra-rich.

That means that fewer and fewer everyday Americans are choosing to contribute to campaigns. In fact, less than 1 percent of Americans donate today. And who can blame them for feeling disenfranchised when they see their efforts dwarfed by the mega donors.

At the same time, campaigns are spending less while the special-interest groups are spending more. So we now have a system that discourages voters from participating and engaging, while rewarding and encouraging special interests to participate even more.

“[O]ur nation is facing a crisis of liberty if we do not control campaign expenditures. We must prove that elective office is not for sale. We must convince the public that elected officials are what James Madison intended us to be, agents of the sovereign people, not the hired hands of rich givers, or what Madison called factions.”

Those are the words not of some liberal Democrat. That’s the prescient echo of Barry Goldwater from 30 years ago.

 

By: Mark McKinnon, The Daily Beast, January 5, 2015

January 6, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Democracy, Mega-Donors | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Who’s Buying The Midterm Elections? A Bunch Of Old White Guys”: White Men Make Up 65 Percent Of Elected Officials

This is the year of the mega-donor: just forty-two people are responsible for nearly a third of Super PAC spending in the 2014 election cycle. Super PACs, meanwhile, are outspending the national parties. The list of would-be kingmakers includes Tom Steyer, the former hedge-fund manager who’s poured out $73 million to elect environmentally friendly Democrats; Michael Bloomberg, who’s distributed upwards of $20 million on behalf of both sides; and Paul Singer, the “vulture-fund billionaire” and powerful Republican fundraiser.

Take a look at the list of top donors. They might have distinctly different political agendas, but they have one thing irrefutably in common: they’re almost exclusively old white guys. Only seven women made it into the forty-two, and not a single person of color.

One of the things highlighted in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, is how poorly America’s political leadership, from city councils to the US Senate, reflects the diversity of the country. According to data compiled by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, white men make up 65 percent of elected officials—more than twice their proportion in the general population. Only 4 percent of our political leaders are women of color. As Jelani Cobb writes in The New Yorker, the midterm elections won’t right this imbalance between demographics and political representation, no matter which party wins the Senate.

In fact, the midterms suggest that white men are gaining clout, at least behind the veil. As campaign-finance laws erode, political power is increasingly concentrated among the billionaires playing the strings of the electoral marionette—a pool that looks less diverse even than Congress. (Given the prominence of dark-money groups, it’s likely that some of the biggest individual players in the midterms are anonymous. But there’s no indication that secret donors are any more diverse than others.)

It’s shrinking, too. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of individual donors increased each election cycle. This year, the pool contracted from 817,464 individual contributors in 2010 to 666,773 as of late October, according to a new analysis from CRP. “Despite only a slight increase in the cost of the election, outside groups, which are overwhelmingly fueled by large donors, are picking up more of the tab, candidates are cutting back on their spending, and there are fewer large (over $200) individual donors contributing overall to candidates and parties,” reads the report.

Politicians should be accountable to the electorate, which is growing more diverse. But the fact that candidates are growing more dependent on a narrow group of contributors means that they may be responsive to a limited set of concerns. There are many factors blunting the political impact of demographic changes, but certainly laws that amplify a less diverse group of people’s voices over others’ in an election is one of them.

The unfettering of big money also makes it harder to elect minority candidates. “Why is it that the Congress we have right now doesn’t look anything like the rest of the country? A lot of it has to do with our campaign-finance laws and the fact that there’s so much money in the system and you need so much money to run for office,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program and the Brennan Center for Justice. “There’s no question that it makes it more difficult for people who aren’t connected to these very wealthy donors to run for office.”

Candidates raise money from people they know, Norden explained, and American social circles are deeply segregated. Three-quarters of white Americans, for example, don’t have any non-white friends. Neighborhoods remain segregated by race and class. “If you don’t have a lot of money to begin with, you’re not interacting with the people who can provide that money,” said Norden.

A number of structural changes have been proposed to right lopsided representation, many of them focused on increasing turnout among minority voters. Those suggestions are particularly salient in response to the GOP’s campaign to pass laws that make it more difficult for low-income people and people of color to vote. But turnout won’t affect the diversity of elected officials if the pool of candidates isn’t diverse to begin with. As long as the financial bar for running a viable campaign keeps rising, it’s going to be more difficult for people of color, women and low-income people to appeal for votes at all.

There’s some evidence that public campaign financing increases proportional representation. Connecticut implemented a voluntary public-financing system in 2008, which provides a fixed amount of funding to candidates who rely on small donors. A study by Demos found that the program led to a more diverse state legislature and increased Latino and female representation. Another study found that the percentage of women elected in five states with public financing was significantly higher than the national average. Unfortunately, in several states recently politicians have set to dismantling, not strengthening, public financing.

“It’s really clear that that’s a major barrier to women and people of color, in particular, that can happen on all levels, even the local level,” said Brenda Carter, director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, about the growing power of outside money. Still, she noted that there’s been little research into the specific ways in which the influence of money in politics has a disproportionate effect on minority candidates. “Adding a race and gender lens to the money-in-politics conversation is a really important thing,” she said.

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, October 31, 2014

November 1, 2014 Posted by | Elected Officials, Midterm Elections, White Men | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Florida Goes Down The Drain”: The Concept Of ‘Going Down To The Water’ Has Extended To ‘Stepping Off The Front Porch’

On Miami Beach, rising sea levels have interesting consequences. The ocean periodically starts bubbling up through local drainpipes. By the time it’s over, the concept of “going down to the water” has extended to stepping off the front porch.

It’s becoming a seasonal event, like swallows at Capistrano or the return of the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio.

“At the spring and fall high tides, we get flooding of coastal areas,” said Leonard Berry, the director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies. “You’ve got saltwater coming up through the drains, into the garages and sidewalks and so on, damaging the Ferraris and the Lexuses.”

Ah, climate change. A vast majority of scientific studies that take a stand on global warming have concluded that it’s caused by human behavior. The results are awful. The penguins are dwindling. The polar bears are running out of ice floes. The cornfields are drying. The southwest is frying.

There is very little on the plus side. Except maybe for Detroit. As Jennifer Kingson reported in The Times this week, one scientific school of thought holds that while temperatures rise and weather becomes extreme in other parts of the country, Detroit’s location will turn it into a veritable garden spot.

Miami is probably not used to being compared unfavorably to Detroit. But there you are. “We’re going to wander around shin-deep in the ocean — on the streets of Miami,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, who is planning to go on a climate-change tour this month with Florida’s senior senator, Bill Nelson. (The junior senator, Marco Rubio, who’s no fan of “these scientists,” will presumably not be joining the party.)

Once a week, when the Senate is in session, Whitehouse gets up and makes a speech about rising sea levels or disappearing lakes or dwindling glaciers. He’s kind of the congressional climate-change guy. He’s also looking for bipartisan love and feeling lonely. “I’ve got exactly no Republican colleagues helping me out with this,” he said.

There was a time, children, when the parties worked together on climate-change issues. No more. Only 3 percent of current Republican members of Congress have been willing to go on record as accepting the fact that people are causing global warming. That, at least, was the calculation by PolitiFact, which found a grand total of eight Republican nondeniers in the House and Senate. That includes Representative Michael Grimm of New York, who while laudably open-minded on this subject, is also under indictment for perjury and tax fraud. So we may be pushing 2 percent in January.

This is sort of stunning. We’re only looking for a simple acknowledgment of basic facts. We’ll give a pass to folks who accept the connection between human behavior and climate change, but say they don’t want to do anything about it.

Or that China should do something first.

Or: “Who cares? I’m from Detroit!”

In Congress, Republican environmentalists appear to be terrified of what should be the most basic environmental issue possible. Whitehouse blames the Supreme Court’s decisions on campaign finance, which gave the energy barons carte blanche when it comes to spending on election campaigns. It’s certainly true that there’s no way to tick off megadonors like the fabled Koch brothers faster than to suggest the globe is warming.

“At the moment, there’s a dogma in the Republican Party about what you can say,” Tom Steyer told me. He’s the billionaire who formed a “super PAC” to support candidates who acknowledge that climate change exists, that it’s caused by human behavior, and that we need to do something major about it.

Steyer has committed to spending about $100 million this year on ads and organizing in seven states. Many in the campaign-finance-reform community think this is a terrible idea, and that you do not combat the power of right-wing oligarchs to influence American elections by doing the same thing on the left. They have a point. But think of the penguins.

Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, who’s running for re-election, has been asked many times whether he believes in man-made climate change. Lately, he responds: “I’m not a scientist.” Scott is also not a doctor, engineer, computer programmer, personal trainer or a bus driver. Really, it’s amazing he even has the confidence to walk into the office in the morning.

The governor did visit last month with some climate scientists. He began the meeting by making it clear that he did not intend to go anywhere near the word causes. After the group had pulled out their maps and projections — including the one that shows much of Miami-Dade County underwater by 2048 — Scott asked them questions. Which were, according to The Miami Herald, “to explain their backgrounds, describe the courses they taught, and where students in their academic fields get jobs.”

If they’re lucky, the students will wind up someplace where there’s no seawater in the garage.

 

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, September 24, 2014

September 26, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Global Warming, Rick Scott | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Expert In Election Law Either”: Florida Governor Rick Scott Is Also ‘Not A Scientist’

Florida governor Rick Scott (R) ripped a page from Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) science-denying playbook on Tuesday, when he dodged a question on climate change by insisting “I’m not a scientist.”

As Marc Caputo reports in The Miami Herald, the latest example of Scott’s climate-change trutherism came during a question-and-answer session in Miami:

Q: Do you believe man-made climate change is significantly affecting the weather, the climate?

Scott: “Well, I’m not a scientist. But let’s talk about what we’ve done. Through our Division of Emergency Management — the last few years, three years – we put about, I think, $120 million to deal with flooding around our coast. We also put a lot of money into our natural treasures, the Everglades, trying to make sure all the water flows south. So we’re dealing with all the issues we can. But I’m not a scientist.”

Q: In 2011 or 2010, you were much more doubtful about climate change. Now you’re sounding less doubtful about man-made climate change because now you’re not saying ‘Look, I doubt the science.’ Now you’re saying: ‘I’m not a scientist.’ Am I right in guessing that?

Scott: “Well, I’m not a scientist. But I can tell you what we’ve accomplished. We put a lot of effort into making sure that we take care of our natural treasures – the Everglades, making sure water flows south, any flooding around our coast. So we’re doing the right thing.”

Question (asked by citizen-activist): So do you believe in the man-made influence on climate change?

Scott: “Nice seeing you guys.”

The governor’s dodge is a rather weak case for refusing to fully confront Florida’s looming environmental crisis. After all, Scott is also not an expert in election law, but that didn’t stop him from illegally attempting to purge Florida’s voter rolls.

If Scott is interested in the opinion of actual scientists on the matter, however, they have been very clear that the climate is warming, likely due to human activities.

Scott’s response is nearly a carbon copy of the one offered by Senator Rubio in 2012, when he infamously responded to a question on the age of the Earth by telling GQ reporter Michael Hainey “I’m not a scientist, man.” Rubio has since devolved on the issue, going from refusing to engage with science to flatly denying it.

Scott’s has moved in the opposite direction. Although he now refuses to discuss science, during his first gubernatorial campaign in 2010 Scott proudly stated that he does not believe in climate change.

The governor’s attempt to sidestep questions on the topic will likely resurface during his re-election campaign. Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has named Scott as one of the top targets of his $100 million campaign to boot climate-change truthers from office in November, and Scott’s awkward answer seems tailor-made for an attack ad.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, May 28, 2014

May 30, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Global Warming, Rick Scott | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: