Campaign Cash: Citizens United Becomes Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card for Corporate Criminals

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

The votes are in, and while some close races are still being tallied, there is a clear winner from the 2010 elections: Secret corporate cash.

Such unaccounted for political donations may end up allowing those accused of wrongdoing to go free. As Joshua Holland details for AlterNet, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission may have provided a lifetime supply of get-out-of-jail-free cards to corporate criminals.

The Kentucky senate race serves as a prime example. The Democratic candidate, Jack Conway, is currently Kentucky’s attorney general. Conway is also currently prosecuting a nursing home for allegedly covering up the sexual abuse of one of its residents.

But that nursing home is owned by Terry Forcht, a millionaire who gives prodigiously to right-wing causes. He poured money into Karl Rove’s organization, American Crossroads GPS, which ran ads backing Conway’s Republican opponent, Rand Paul. Guess who came away with the victory last night?

As Holland emphasizes, the mid-term elections are just how the first phase of the justice system’s corruption plays out. Eventually the mere threat of attack ads could be enough to prevent needed prosecutions. Corporate bigwigs could literally get away with murder, and pay for it only through attack ads.

 

Think this is bad? Just wait for 2012

As David Corn details for Mother Jones, the Supreme Court’s ruling has put American democracy in grave danger. This year’s big spending is just a warm-up for the 2012 presidential election. Karl Rove has already pledged to keep running attack ads after the mid-terms, and there’s no doubt that he’ll make good on that. As Corn emphasizes, this issue doesn’t just affect how campaigns are financed—it will permanently reshape the very nature of American elections.

The permanent, neverending campaign will become even more permanent and neverending. These big-and-secret-money groups will be working 24/7, opposing and discrediting President Barack Obama and the Democrats in the so-called off-year and then revving up for the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. The negative ads never have to stop.

That, ultimately, is the major take-away from last night’s elections. Not the number of seats Republicans picked up in the House, or the Tea Party’s ability to infiltrate the Senate, but the formal incorporation of American politics. With literally no limits on the amount of money they can spend to influence elections, corporations and secret billionaires are going to be tipping the democratic scales wherever they smell profit.

That means it will be much, much harder for politicians of any ideological stripe to solve society’s problems. The richest corporations have the most political purchasing power, and the companies with the most money are those that have thrived under the status quo—however destructive that state of affairs may be to society at large. This money will go to keeping things the way they are—not toward creating jobs, improving education, expanding access to health care, stopping ecological catastrophe or anything else.

Citizens United 101

We spoke with Jesse Zwick of The Washington Independent about the nuts and bolts of Citizens United and secret campaign cash. In the below video, Zwick details the potential impact of secret money—and how citizens and legislature can curb the effects of this historic ruling.

Bare-bones, anti-Citizens United legislation might still have a shot

So what can be done? Earlier this year, Republicans successfully filibustered legislation that would have forced corporations to disclose their political spending and require front-groups to divulge the identities of their donors. But as Jesse Zwick emphasizes for The Washington Independent, there’s still one more opportunity to push a bare-bones version of the bill through Congress. Democrats will retain their broad Congressional majorities until January 2011, when the candidates elected last night formally take up office. If Democrats see which way the corporate wind is blowing, they’ll flex their political muscles one last time to get a disclosure bill through Congress. There are many things that people are reluctant to do in public that they have the political right to do. If lawmakers can remove the anonymity from corporate and elite political spending, some of the Citizens United damage could be reversed.

If not, 2012 is going to be even uglier than last night.

But wait, there’s more!

  • Amie Newman of RH Reality Check reports that a last-minute mailer funded by outside group The Citizens for Responsible Spending attacked Washington state Sen. Rodney Tom, citing his pro-women’s rights and pro-LGBT positions. Tom ended up losing his seat last night.
  • California upheld its environmental protection law by defeating Proposition 23, despite the fact that oil companies funneled nearly $10 million to pass the measure, reports Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones.
  • As Dave Gilson details for Mother Jones, outside spending worked overwhelmingly in favor of Republican candidates in key races.

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.

 

 

Campaign Cash: Why Conservative Attack Ads Won’t Stop After Election Day

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Today is the first election in American history in which corporations have been allowed to spend their own money to buy political favors. This legalized corruption comes courtesy of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which injected massive amounts of corporate cash and unprecedented levels of secrecy into American politics.

And all of this crazy corporate spending will not be restricted to elections. That’s right. As Jesse Zwick reports for The Washington Independent, two front-groups founded by GOP strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie plan to keep running ads attacking Democrats well after the elections are over.

As Zwick emphasizes, this is actually a way to help keep one of the organizations, known as American Crossroads GPS from breaking the law. Many groups that spend money on elections register as 501(c)(4) organizations, which must devote no more than half of their activity to political operations. In return for limiting their political activity—advocacy or condemnation of specific candidates—they don’t have to disclose who their donors are. So groups like American Crossroads GPS plan to run “issue ads” focusing on the budget deficit and immigration reform this fall to balance out the ads directed at specific candidates that they’ve already run.

Under the Citizens United ruling, so long as corporations or wealthy elites launder their political expenditures through a front-group, they can give as much as they want without ever being held publicly accountable. But the high court’s decision also allows these front-groups to keep their actual expenditures secret as well. It’s not just that we don’t know who is funding them—in many cases, we also don’t really know what they’re funding.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s foreign dues

The secrecy surrounding anonymous donors may very well extend to foreign corporations. As Harry Hanbury emphasizes in this video for GRITtv, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—a lobbying front-group for the largest American corporations—is facing heavy scrutiny over is foreign contributions. Nearly $900,000 in annual dues to the Chamber come from foreign firms, and the Chamber aggressively courts foreign donors who might benefit from weak U.S. laws—particularly environmental laws. The Chamber insists that it’s playing by the rules, but Hanbury catches them lying twice about the nature of the group’s foreign funding.

California’s environmental laws for sale

Corporations aren’t just targeting federal elections to influence public policy. As Tara Lohan explains for AlterNet, big oil companies have financed a campaign to repeal California’s carbon emission reduction law. Two major polluters—Valero and Tesoro—have spent a combined $7 million boosting the repeal, while Koch Industries—a major Tea Party funder—has kicked in about $1 million as well. A full 70 percent of the $10.7 million that has been spent to bolster the anti-environment ballot initiative has come from out-of-state sources.

Even the Tea Party’s worried

When the Tea Party Patriots received an anonymous $1 million donation for get-out-the-vote efforts, left-wing bloggers weren’t the only people upset about it. As Stephanie Mencimer reports for Mother Jones, some of the Tea Party Patriots’ own members were nervous: Who was funding this operation, and where was the money going?

We’ll probably never know, because the Tea Party Patriots aren’t legally obligated report their donors or expenses. The group has only disclosed $15,000 worth of expenditures of the $1 million donation, $10,000 of which was re-granted to another organization run by the father of Tea Party Patriots leader Mark Meckler. The remainder is anybody’s guess.

But wait, there’s more!

  • Writing for In These Times, Sam Ross-Brown highlights a potential legislative solution to some of these campaign finance shenanigans. The Fair Elections Now Act would limit individual campaign contributions to $100, and match them by a factor of four-to-one, increasing the spending power of ordinary citizens and helping to level the distorted playing field created by Citizens United.
  • Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones details who got hit the hardest this election season in the final push leading up to Election Day: Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) got some of the biggest expenditures. This year also smashed previous campaign expenditures, coming in at $443 million.
  • Suzy Khimm reports on voter intimidation tactics for Mother Jones from a McDonald’s fast food franchise  in Ohio’s 16th district. Employees were told to vote for Republicans or their wages would go down. McDonald’s may have been emboldened by Citizens United even though such tactics are still clearly illegal.

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.

 

 

Poll: 65% of Democrats & Republicans Oppose Outside Money in Their Elections

Nationally, the 2010 elections have seen an explosion of money from outside groups.

In the Georgia gubernatorial campaign, for example, three groups not from the Empire State of the South --the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), Republican Governors Association (RGA) and SEIU International-- pumped more than $3 million into the state to influence the election [SOURCE: State Ethics Commission].

The result of all this outside money is an increasingly negative campaign permeated with ads focused on attacks, and not solutions.

A new poll commissioned by the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College says that both Democrats and Republicans oppose groups like the DGA and SEIU influencing their elections with outside money.

A survey of 1,000 Americans nationwide suggests a wide majority believe it is unacceptable for groups to spend heavily on political advertising in districts where they are not located, a phenomenon dubbed "outside money."

Self-described independents expressed the most opposition to outside election spending, at about 72 percent. Self-described Democrats and Republicans both oppose the practice, at about 65 percent, respectively.

Self-described conservatives, liberals and moderates oppose outside spending by about 65 percent, while a full 75 percent of Americans aged 50 and older oppose it, too. About 63 percent of Americans who earn more than $100,000 and 69 percent of those making less than $25,000 oppose outside spending.

This poll was conducted by Zogby International, and it tells us the obvious. At all levels of government, we need real campaign finance reform. At all levels of government, we need limits on spending from outside groups. We need limits on campaign contributions, and we need more transparency on those disclosure reports.

The full results of this poll can be seen here.

Poll: 65% of Democrats & Republicans Oppose Outside Money in Their Elections

Nationally, the 2010 elections have seen an explosion of money from outside groups.

In the Georgia gubernatorial campaign, for example, three groups not from the Empire State of the South --the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), Republican Governors Association (RGA) and SEIU International-- pumped more than $3 million into the state to influence the election [SOURCE: State Ethics Commission].

The result of all this outside money is an increasingly negative campaign permeated with ads focused on attacks, and not solutions.

A new poll commissioned by the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College says that both Democrats and Republicans oppose groups like the DGA and SEIU influencing their elections with outside money.

A survey of 1,000 Americans nationwide suggests a wide majority believe it is unacceptable for groups to spend heavily on political advertising in districts where they are not located, a phenomenon dubbed "outside money."

Self-described independents expressed the most opposition to outside election spending, at about 72 percent. Self-described Democrats and Republicans both oppose the practice, at about 65 percent, respectively.

Self-described conservatives, liberals and moderates oppose outside spending by about 65 percent, while a full 75 percent of Americans aged 50 and older oppose it, too. About 63 percent of Americans who earn more than $100,000 and 69 percent of those making less than $25,000 oppose outside spending.

This poll was conducted by Zogby International, and it tells us the obvious. At all levels of government, we need real campaign finance reform. At all levels of government, we need limits on spending from outside groups. We need limits on campaign contributions, and we need more transparency on those disclosure reports.

The full results of this poll can be seen here.

Poll: 65% of Democrats & Republicans Oppose Outside Money in Their Elections

Nationally, the 2010 elections have seen an explosion of money from outside groups.

In the Georgia gubernatorial campaign, for example, three groups not from the Empire State of the South --the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), Republican Governors Association (RGA) and SEIU International-- pumped more than $3 million into the state to influence the election [SOURCE: State Ethics Commission].

The result of all this outside money is an increasingly negative campaign permeated with ads focused on attacks, and not solutions.

A new poll commissioned by the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College says that both Democrats and Republicans oppose groups like the DGA and SEIU influencing their elections with outside money.

A survey of 1,000 Americans nationwide suggests a wide majority believe it is unacceptable for groups to spend heavily on political advertising in districts where they are not located, a phenomenon dubbed "outside money."

Self-described independents expressed the most opposition to outside election spending, at about 72 percent. Self-described Democrats and Republicans both oppose the practice, at about 65 percent, respectively.

Self-described conservatives, liberals and moderates oppose outside spending by about 65 percent, while a full 75 percent of Americans aged 50 and older oppose it, too. About 63 percent of Americans who earn more than $100,000 and 69 percent of those making less than $25,000 oppose outside spending.

This poll was conducted by Zogby International, and it tells us the obvious. At all levels of government, we need real campaign finance reform. At all levels of government, we need limits on spending from outside groups. We need limits on campaign contributions, and we need more transparency on those disclosure reports.

The full results of this poll can be seen here.

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