Campaign Cash: Tea Party Vows to Block Campaign Finance Reform

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Welcome to the final edition of Campaign Cash, which tracked political spending during this year’s midterm elections. Stay tuned for more reporting on money in politics from members of The Media Consortium. To see more stories on campaign funding, follow the Twitter hashtag #campaigncash.

Anonymous millionaires just helped elect dozens of ultraconservative congressional candidates, by pumping millions of dollars into national Tea Party organizations. And guess what’s at the top of the legislative to-do list for those same Tea Party groups? Blocking campaign finance reform legislation.

As Stephanie Mencimer explains for Mother Jones, one of the nation’s largest Tea Party organizations, the Tea Party Patriots, is already coming out guns-a-blazing against any lame duck effort to crack down on secret corporate spending in elections.

And with good cause. The Tea Party’s appeal, after all, is based on its populist, grassroots image. If anybody knew that secret right-wing millionaires were bankrolling the entire operation, the “movement” would lose its luster.

But whether reformers are able to force front-groups to disclose their donors or not, the broader effort to eliminate undue corporate influence from the political process will take years.

Welcome to the plutocracy

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission allowed corporations and deep-pocketed elites to spend unlimited amounts electing politicians of their choosing. So long as those expenditures are funneled through a front-group, nobody has to know who is buying an ugly attack ad or why. Instead ads are sponsored by groups with a innocuous-sounding names like “Americans for Prosperity” or “Americans for Job Security.” Nobody knows who ultimately foots the bill.

In organized crime, this process is called “money laundering.” And everyone is getting in on the game, from the Tea Party to Karl Rove to U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As Bill Moyers explains in this Boston University lecture carried by Truthout, it’s ravaging American democracy.

Rove, other conservative groups and the Chamber of Commerce have in fact created a “shadow party” … We have reached what … former Labor Secretary Robert Reich calls “the perfect storm that threatens American democracy: An unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top; a record amount of secret money flooding our democracy; and a public becoming increasingly angry and cynical about a government that’s raising its taxes, reducing its services, and unable to get it back to work. We’re losing our democracy to a different system. It’s called plutocracy.”

That, ultimately, is what is at stake with campaign finance reform. Can democracy continue to serve as a check on elite power? Or will America simply dance to the tune played by the super-rich. Citizens United made an undemocratic mess of this year’s election—but the influence of corporate cash is not going to simply melt away. Without serious reforms, the very concept of American elections will become a quaint, naive relic of the past.

Wall Street wins big

And while the plutocracy plainly organized itself against Democrats in this election, democrats have not exactly been strangers to corporate largesse. As Laura Flanders emphasizes for GRITtv, while President Barack Obama occasionally offered rhetorical rebukes against the Wall Street establishment, so far as public policy was concerned, he rarely did anything to ruffle their feathers. Obama continued the Bush bailouts, praised the executives of firms would eventually be investigated for fraud as “savvy,” and aimed pretty low on financial reform. But as Flanders notes, all those favors didn’t end up helping either Obama or his party on Nov. 2:

Having soaked up the government’s largesse, those banksters repaid Obama by pouring millions of anonymous dollars into defeating Democrats.

It worked. The most vocal Wall Street critics in the House and Senate—Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) were bombarded with attack ads courtesy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Now they’re gone, along with the Democratic majority in the House.

Last-ditch effort on campaign finance reform

As Jesse Zwick emphasizes for The Washington Independent, Congress can still limit the damage in the coming months before the officials elected last night take office. A modest law that would require corporations to disclose their political expenditures and force front-groups to publicly identify their donors would help limit the damage.

After that, as Moyers emphasizes, it’s a long, hard fight.

But wait! There’s more.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the mid-term elections and campaign financing by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit The Media Consortium for more articles on these issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Tonight on Bill Moyers - Lessons From A Quagmire

Tonight on PBS, Bill Moyers Journal will focus on the LBJ telephone and office tapes created during the escalation in Vietnam, in a program called "Hearing History".

Bill Moyers considers a President's decision to escalate troop levels in a military conflict. Through LBJ's taped phone conversations and his own remembrances, Bill Moyers looks at Johnson's deliberations as he stepped up America's role in Vietnam.

President Lyndon Johnson's taped conversations are a treasure-trove for both historians and current policy makers. On the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers explores the tapes to review Johnson's deliberations as he stepped up America's role in Vietnam. Some of the names on the tape, such as Robert F. Kennedy, will be familiar to Americans young and old -- others less so.

There's more...

Credibility: Wm. Black Wins It; Goldman CFO Loses It

News events appear to be unfolding in a virtually symmetric fashion over the past 24 hours to indicate that the shit may, indeed, be hitting the fan with regard to congressional TARP/bailout investigations into various, potential improprieties that may have occurred, in the early Fall of 2008, between senior management at AIG and Goldman Sachs. Further exacerbating these realities, it  is a matter of highly-publicized record that all of this played out under the direct supervision of some of the highest-ranking U.S. officials within the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve.

William Black, the former deputy director of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp during the U.S. Savings and Loan Crisis of the 1980's, is interviewed in this week's Barron's Magazine in what may be an even more provocative piece than his highly publicized Bill Moyers' interview last week.  As many reading this may recall, Black's PBS interview was widely covered in the blogosphere last week, including a very spirited discussion between multiple DKos' diarists.

There's more...

S&L Crisis Reformist: Gov-Industry Cover-Up Is Huge

Update: Black's response can be read at Black's response to bloggers.

William K. Black, senior regulator during the 1980s S & L crisis and associate professor of economics and law, says the government understates the immense scale of exotic financial products fraud and is lying about the current health of our financial system to prevent a meltdown.

Confidence is oxygen, pointed out Warren Buffett last October. I keep up my hope that Obama is simply rolling out the recovery program (and sparing us all the details) so as not to scare the hell out of everyone, thinking that the immediate effects of the recovery ought to be different than a shock-and-awe campaign. But secrecy doesn't exactly work well nor should it in democracies, right?

There's more...

Connecting the Dots: What any Good Journalist Should Do

Last night, I finally got around to listening to the podcast of Bill Moyers' December interview with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. Now I know that, given his primary season criticisms of the Clinton campaign, Olbermann is no longer seen by everyone here as some sort of knight in shining armor. To those people I would say, I understand your anger; I feel it every time a reporter repeats the lie that Joe Biden is a plagiarist or Howard Dean a polarizing madman. However, now that the primary season is over, we should once again be thankful that SOMEONE with a cable platform is calling out Bush for his attacks on the Constitution and his incompetence.

In that spirit, I want to share two Olbermann quotes from the interview that help crystallize just what a good journalist should do, and why today's media is not representative of good journalism. This first quote is in reply to a question from Moyers about what political journalism and sports broadcasting (Olbermann's prior life) have in common. Olbermann replied that both require skepticism and an appreciation for history.

In sports reporting, it is almost assumed that you need to have some predicative ability and you have to be able to discern patterns, and also discern when somebody's telling you, "No, our shortstop's great!" and he really isn't, and what the difference between those two things are. When the results don't match up to the hyperbole, you need to be able to see that, and you need to be able to say it in some sort of informed way. When you cover a sport like baseball or football or whatever, you're here for this part of the story. You've joined it 75 years in progress or 100 years in progress. It should be the same way when you're covering the news, particularly in politics, and yet as we've seen, people in the political world now don't know what the Cuban Missile Crisis was.

This second quote came a few minutes later, and speaks to the importance of linking old news with new developments - what Olbermann calls "discerning patterns."

Part of the news is not just saying, well, this happened in the last 24 hours, but here's something that happened six weeks and there's been a development in it, you're just not reading about it, you're not hearing about it, because there's so much else to worry about it. The list, though, of things we could attach the word "-gate" to in the Bush administration is now 50 items long.

After listening to that interview, I sat down to write a list of all the Bush scandals I could think of. Olbermann was wrong - there are MORE than 50 items. I need to take some time to put the list in some sort of a coherent order, but will post it tomorrow for an open thread of add-ons.

What Olbermann calls "discerning patterns," my former journalism professor and freelance reporter Alexis Jetter calls "connecting the dots." Both are correct: the MSM's fear of repeating "old news" must die. We can't see the truth if we don't connect the past with the present, whether that past be two weeks old or forty years. Reporting the Dick Cheney censored CDC testimony to Congress means nothing if the media doesn't remind viewers that this censorship follows on the heels of similar attacks on the EPA and NASA. Connecting the dots is what Walter Cronkite did when he explained the Watergate scandal to the American people, and it's what Olbermann tries to do with his show's segment, "Bushed! Countdown's list of the top three Bush scandals you may have forgotten about because of all of the new Bush scandals." Here then is the most recent "Bushed" from July 11, guest hosted by Rachel Maddow.

There's more...

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