Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 25, 2010

THERE'S NOTHING ROUTINE ABOUT IT.... There was some discussion on the Sunday shows about what's become of campaign financing in American elections, but much of the talk made it seem as if this year was par for the course.

It's not. E.J. Dionne Jr. explains this morning that this is "a huge, historic deal," despite media reports that have "treated the spending avalanche as a normal political story and arguments about its dangers as partisan Democratic whining."

Imagine an election in a Third World nation where a small number of millionaires and billionaires spent massive sums to push the outcome in their preferred direction. Wouldn't many people here condescendingly tut-tut over such a country's "poorly developed" sense of democracy and the inadequacy of its political system?

That, of course, is what is going on in our country as you read this. If you travel any place where there is a contested House or Senate race, you are bombarded with attack ads, almost all against Democrats, paid for by groups that do not have to reveal where their money comes from.

What we do know from enterprising journalism and the limited disclosure the law requires is that much of this money is donated in large sums from a rather small number of wealthy individuals. [...]

The outside money should be an issue for Democrats. They ought to be asking, even more forcefully than they have been, what these secret donors expect for their money. You can be sure that the benefactors will not keep their identities hidden from the members of Congress they help elect. Only the voters will be in the dark.

I don't doubt that at some point next week, leading Dems are going to note that Republican gains were purchased by shadowy far-right groups, relying on secret donations from a handful of extremely rich conservatives, which progressives simply couldn't keep up with. Republicans and news outlets will call this an "excuse" -- a word Politico used in this context this morning.

But dismissing this as little more than an after-the-fact rationalization is a mistake. For one thing, the argument happens to be true. For another, the new system is simply unhealthy. Dionne added, "Secret money is dangerous. Secret money corrupts. Secret money is antithetical to the transparency that democracy requires. And concentrated money, which is what we're talking about here, buys more influence and access than small contributions."

And right on cue, the New York Times reports, "The anonymously financed conservative groups that have played such a crucial role this campaign year are starting a carefully coordinated final push to deliver control of Congress to Republicans, shifting money among some 80 House races they are monitoring day by day. Officials involved in the effort over the midterm elections' final week say it is being spearheaded by a core subset of the largest outside conservative groups, which have millions of dollars left to spend on television advertisements, mailings and phone calls for five potentially decisive Senate races, as well as the scores of House races."

One of the right-wing hatchet-men boosting Republican candidates, boasted, "We carpet-bombed for two months in 82 races, now it's sniper time."

Anyone who thinks this is good for the American political system isn't paying attention.

Steve Benen 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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This will be extra wonderful when in January of 2013 we get a new President who comes from outside the party system, has a perfect resume, has wonderful ideas, and then hands our country over to our corporatist overlords.

Posted by: jon on October 25, 2010 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

Two thoughts on this:

First, I think the reluctance by many Democrats to criticize the secret money is that they are hoping to get some of it sent their way some day.

And secondly, I offer this as a provocative one-liner for Democrats to use:

Of course Republicans will fight to hide the identities of their big-mony donors. It's always been an unwritten rule that whores are expected to keep the identity of their johns secret. Just ask David Vitter.

Posted by: SteveT on October 25, 2010 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

Since these obscenely wealthy donors are already rich, what do they WANT?

it is interesting that other obscenely wealthy Americans- Bill Gates, Mayor Bloomberg, et al-are using their wealth to advance the cause of democracy, equality, etc, worldwide.

-love Steve T's whores/johns metaphor!

Posted by: DAY on October 25, 2010 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

These low information cretins are about to get what's coming to them. My take is that most are poor and uneducated with a bone to pick and they realize that they won't be able to "get even" with the rich so they have decided to kill the middle class. It happened in the South when poor whites decided to "feel better about themselves" by making it awful to be black. Now poor whites are taking aim at the middle class to "level" the playing field reducing that classes wealth to their level encouraged and paid for by rich white people who saw the advantage in the use of this demographic to increase their own wealth. using stupid people to do their bidding just like those Southern politicians did during the Johnson era.

It's a newer version of the Southern strategy effectively being used this time against against the middle class. Nauseating....

Posted by: stevioq on October 25, 2010 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

How timely a thread. Just this AM, I noticed an ad run on our local Portland TV stations. We live in District 3, and our incumbent excellent US Rep is Earl Blumenhauer. The ad was for a Libertarian/Independent, of whom, is not exactly a household name in Portland and looked as though the US Chamber of Commerce had produced the ad. I am positive very little Portland money went into this ad. The ad concentrated on "WASTE". They even showed Bush in the collection of politicos who were responsible for said "waste".

Posted by: berttheclock on October 25, 2010 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Politico purposely try and piss people off. They're under the impression that's the role of modern day journalists.

Posted by: mikefromArlington on October 25, 2010 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

As ususal, Benen and those posting comments here entirely miss the point!

All we, as wealthy republicans, are doing is increasing our hold on the political processes at both the federal and state levels. We are doing what we have always done; buy pols! We already own virtually all republicans and most democrats. We are merely exercising our 'freedom of speech' to make the process more efficient.

This fall is only the start of the learning process for us. We will become more efficient in utilizing our resources to assure that good, white, wealthy Americans get what we deserve - more money and more power.

In the future, we expect the process to become more cost effective. Long term, we expect to not to have to spend as much money maintaining our control. We expect that senators and congressmen will come to learn that we are not funnels of money to them to have them do our bidding. They will learn that our resources will become more focused on eliminating from office anyone who does not do so. Do what we want at little to no cost OR we will come after you like a sledge hammer!

God Bless our Supreme Court for their ruling in Citizens United Not Timid vs FEC!
God Bless our United Corporations of Amerikkka!

Remember the mottos of my wealthy class:
- More is never enough!
- I've got mine, fuck you!

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on October 25, 2010 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks for the bitch slap, RepublicanPointOfView- I needed that!

(Now, back to working hard, to pay my taxes, so you can build another public funded private golf course. . .)

Posted by: DAY on October 25, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

And lets us not forget, for the Republican operatives, this is a money making venture. They get paid off the top, and then the ads are produced, etc. Always pay yourself first is their rule.

Posted by: Tigershark on October 25, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

There aggravation here in NM is that Susana Martinez is trying to convince voters that the Dem's "Say no to Susana la Tejana" is about her birth certificate! If the Texas power brokers succeed in getting her elected, we may as well change the name of New Mexico to New Texico.

Posted by: Varecia on October 25, 2010 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

In an article over the weekend, one of the defenders of the secrecy carped about how, when sources of money are revealed, corporate types get people going to their houses, yelling at them, etc. I think that behavior is over the top. But the logic here is terrific. Elected officials [ for all their many faults] stick their asses on the line daily, and get subjected to all sorts of intelligent questions, as well as attacks, lunacy, etc. But oh - we can't let the people who PAY for the elections actually have to smell the stink of the processs. Oh no. The poor darlings need to keep the secrecy to "protect" them.

Posted by: bigutah on October 25, 2010 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

All triggered by the ironically named Citizens United decision by the Extremes. The media's lack of real reporting on this validates my own view of our worthless corporate media and makes the tea baggers's constant assertions "the media" is "too liberal" even more laughable. As the 24/7 dumbdown continues.

Posted by: Bob on October 25, 2010 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, it's great for the American political system, if your goal is the destruction of the American political system.


Posted by: Zorro on October 25, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Of course, when you have both Chrissy Pooh and Mourning Joe having Chuck Todd on to talk about the White House wasting their time on Citizens United and, even, quoting WaPo, the NYT and Wall Street Journal saying it doesn't exist, what do you expect from the "liberal" media?

Posted by: berttheclock on October 25, 2010 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

I hate these guys. Excuse me, I'm off to find my pitchfork and a few torches.

Posted by: fourlegsgood on October 25, 2010 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

@berttheclock on October 25, 2010 at 11:18 AM
"Of course, when you have both Chrissy Pooh and Mourning Joe having Chuck Todd on to talk about the White House wasting their time on Citizens United and, even, quoting WaPo, the NYT and Wall Street Journal saying it doesn't exist, what do you expect from the "liberal" media?"

Let's not forget that the broadcast media industry is the biggest beneficiary of all of this secret money. All of this money will help to line the coffers of people who are in a dying industry. So the takeaway must be that the MEDIA IS NOT A NEUTRAL PARTY IN THIS ARGUMENT.

And we must remember that 90% of folks in the media have absolutely no incentive to do any real reporting about it. In fact, we have got to realize that do to their profit motive, folks in media have an absolute disincentive to do anything that will upset the apple cart. So only a few brave folks are even willing to talk about the real issue in this election, namely, how the Supreme Court and the Republican Party used Citizens United to destroy the last bit of our representative democracy. The kicker is that they are in control of the very medium that Democratic politicians need to have access to in order to even have a hope of educating the public about what is really going on. (Ever notice how rarely they carry Obama's rally speeches live anymore?) Let's just hope that President Obama, our B-Baller in Chief, can pull together some new moves during the final inning of the game.

Posted by: MJ on October 25, 2010 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

It is clear what their legal argument is going to be against disclosure (assuming their lobbying and independent expenditures don't buy them the votes to keep blocking disclosure laws): that the businesses who donate will be harassed and threatened. Yes, the Supreme Court has recognized a limited exception to disclosure for some unpopular or controversial minority groups whose members might be at risk if publicly disclosed. But do we really think that corporations are some oppressed minority? They are not like the lone pamphleteers handing out political flyers with her own views. Why shouldn't corporations have the experience the consequences of their political speech, even if it affects their bottom line from boycotts, or if shareholders effectively organize against such expenditures? What's un-American about that?

Some of these groups won't even list a real address -- it's just a rented mailbox.

Posted by: jsj on October 25, 2010 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

Local network-affiliate television stations love all the money. I'm sure they tell their elected representatives how it's all democracy at work in the best of all possible worlds.

Posted by: jrw on October 25, 2010 at 9:58 PM | PERMALINK



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