Democracy for dollars

“Moroun could be the poster child representing the corrupting effect large concentrations of wealth have on the political system.”


By Curt Guyette

Where political might is held by a wealthy few and the corporations are just people too

Spending spree

As of Jan. 20, $33 million has beenspent by Super PACs — which are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in support of a particular candidate as long as there is (supposedly) no contact occurring between campaign officials and the PAC.

Giving credence to the contention that the movement to amend could become more of a 99 percent issue than a more traditional dispute between rank-and-file Republicans and their counterparts on the left is the recent turn taken in the increasingly nasty GOP primary battle.

Essentially, we’ve been witnessing the two leading Republican candidates attacking each other for being … Republicans!

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has gone after former hedge fund manager Mitt Romney for being a vulture capitalist, eliminating jobs to increase profits and picking over the carcass of what remains. And Romney has attempted to tar Gingrich for being a lobbyist for lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are ultimately responsible for the majority of home foreclosures taking place.

Doing much of the dirty work in both cases are commercials being paid for by Super PACs.

In the recently completed South Carolina Republican primary, independent organizations reportedly outspent the candidates by a margin of about 2 to 1.

And we’re only a month into the primary season.

Already, we here in Michigan have seen an independent ad — this one from the group Americans for Prosperity — attacking President Obama for the debacle involving the federal government’s $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, a solar panel maker that went bankrupt, costing taxpayers more than a half-billion dollars.

“It is only going to get worse,” says Dave Vance, spokesman for the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C. “Most congressional races haven’t heated up yet. Once we get to the general election, a huge percentage of the country is going to have to live through these TV commercials. They’re only going to fuel public outrage and feed the perception that democracy is on the auction block.”

Even more ominous, says Vance, is that some office holders are already floating the idea that limits on direct contributions to campaigns should also be lifted.

In fact, the Republican National Committee has filed a brief with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals “seeking an end to the federal ban on direct contributions from corporations to candidates,” according to the group Common Cause.

Vance, however, doesn’t see amending the Constitution as being the best way to address the problem. Or, at least, the sole way.

“It can’t be the only play in the playbook,” he says.

A better approach, he contends, is to pressure lawmakers into passing campaign finance and disclosure laws that will pass muster with the current Supreme Court.

“The amendment process is incredibly unwieldy and time-consuming,” he says. “We can’t afford to wait for a constitutional amendment. The whole system is under attack, from stem to stern.”

This much, however, seems almost certain: The idea that our government is for sale to the highest bidder will become more indelible as this election year moves forward.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper reports that “two of the biggest forces in outside spending in the U.S., the Koch brothers and Karl Rove, with his American Crossroads GPS Super PAC, plan to steer $240 million and $200 million respectively into the election in the course of the coming year.”

Think about that: $440 million in spending by just two of these Super PACs with the intent of influencing the outcome of a presidential election.

Rove is the former adviser for President George W. Bush. The Koch brothers, whose sprawling business interests include oil, chemical and timber companies, control an empire that generates an estimated $100 billion a year in revenue.

It was the Koch brothers, by the way, who founded Americans for Prosperity — a nonprofit organization that doesn’t have to disclose to the public the source of its funding. Imagine the glee of oil billionaires able to slam the solar industry and tarnish the president promoting green energy alternatives. It’s the perfect right-wing twofer.

Closer to home, the state branch of Americans for Prosperity has run ads distorting issues connected to attempts to build a publicly owned bridge between Detroit and Windsor. That bridge, if built, would provide direct competition to the privately owned Ambassador Bridge, controlled by billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun and his family.

Between the anti-public bridge commercials and mailers and the family’s abundant campaign donations, the Morouns have so far been able to block approval of a new bridge that’s supported by the state’s Republican governor, the big three automakers, major unions and a broad swath of the business community.

Moroun could be the poster child representing the corrupting effect large concentrations of wealth have on the political system.

It’s no wonder the protesters outside the courthouse are asking the question: Is this any way to run a democracy?

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