Super PACs and Secret Money Destroying America's Democracy

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Super PACs and Secret Money Destroying America's Democracy

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 multibillionaire 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 we can see the effects of this ruling.

For instance, we saw in this year's Republican nominating contests that 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: super PACs!

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.

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 super PACs.)

These new entities amassed and spent vastly more than the campaigns of the actual candidates. Nearly all of this super PAC 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 super PACs 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!

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 super PACs were having one-on-one conversations with each candidate "in quiet rooms" (as Mitt Romney so-genteelly put it).

Super PACs 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) nonprofit "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 dozen donors chipping in from $1 million to $10 million each.

The unlimited special-interest money gush into American politics dethrones democratic rule, corrupts government, increases both wealth disparity and social injustice, and destroys essential public trust in our society's commitment to fairness.

Super PACs are but one of the pipelines allowing corporate money to drown America's historic ideal of egalitarian self-government. The secret (c)(4) corporate "charities," the corporate "bundlers" who collect billions for the candidates' campaigns, the myriad fundraising committees run by both political parties, the sham "foundations" that permit corporate favor-seekers to make tax-deductible donations to elected officials — these and all other channels of private purchase must be capped if America is ever to have a government of, by and for the people.

Jim Hightower

National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

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