Money Throws Democracy Overboard

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Watching what’s happening to our democracy is like watching the cruise ship Costa Concordia founder and sink slowly into the sea off the coast of Italy, as the passengers, shorn of life vests, scramble for safety as best they can, while the captain trips and falls conveniently into a waiting life boat.

We are drowning here, with gaping holes torn into the hull of the ship of state from charges detonated by the owners and manipulators of capital. Their wealth has become a demonic force in politics. Nothing can stop them. Not the law, which has been written to accommodate them. Not scrutiny — they have no shame. Not a decent respect for the welfare of others — the people without means, their safety net shredded, left helpless before events beyond their control.

The obstacles facing the millennial generation didn’t just happen.  Take an economy skewed to the top, low wages and missing jobs, predatory interest rates on college loans: these are politically engineered consequences of government of, by, and for the one percent. So, too, is our tax code the product of money and politics, influence and favoritism, lobbyists and the laws they draft for rented politicians to enact.

Here’s what we’re up against. Read it and weep: “America’s Plutocrats Play the Political Ponies.”  That’s a headline in “Too Much,” an Internet publication from the Institute for Policy Studies that describes itself as “an online weekly on excess and inequality.”

Yes, the results are in and our elections have replaced horse racing as the sport of kings.  Only these kings aren’t your everyday poobahs and potentates.  These kings are multi-billionaire, corporate moguls who by the divine right, not of God, but the United States Supreme Court and its Citizens United decision, are now buying politicians like so much pricey horseflesh.  All that money pouring into Super PACs, much of it from secret sources: merely an investment, should their horse pay off in November, in the best government money can buy.

They’re shelling out fortunes’ worth of contributions. Look at just a few of them: Mitt Romney’s hedge fund pals Robert Mercer, John Paulson, Julian Robertson and Paul Singer – each of whom has ponied up a million or more for the Super PAC called “Restore Our Future” — as in, “Give us back the go-go days, when predators ruled Wall Street like it was Jurassic Park.”

Then there’s casino boss Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, fiercely pro-Israel and anti-President Obama’s Mideast policy. Initially, they placed their bets on Newt Gingrich, who says on his first day in office he’d move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a decision that would thrill the Adelsons, but infuriate Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim world. Together, the Adelsons have contributed ten million to Newt’s “Winning Our Future” Super PAC.

Cowboy billionaire Foster Friess, a born-again Christian who made his fortune herding mutual funds instead of cattle, has been bankrolling the “Red White and Blue Fund” Super PAC of Rick Santorum, with whom he shares a social right-wing agenda. Dark horse Ron Paul has relied on the kindness of PayPal founder Peter Thiel, a like-minded libertarian in favor of the smallest government possible, who gave $900,000 to Paul’s “Endorse Liberty” Super PAC. Hollywood’s Jeffrey Katzenberg has so far emptied his wallet to the tune of a cool two million for the pro-Obama Super PAC, “Priorities USA Action.”

President Obama — who kept his distance from Priorities USA Action and used to call the money unleashed by Citizens United a “threat to democracy” — has declared if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. He urges his wealthy supporters to please go ahead and back the Super PAC. “Our campaign has to face the reality of the law as it stands,” his campaign manager Jim Messina said. To do otherwise, he added, would be to “unilaterally disarm” in the face of all those Republican Super PAC millions. So much for Obama’s stand on campaign finance reform — everybody else is doing it, he seems to say, so why don’t you show me the money, too?

When all is said and done, this race for the White House may cost more than two billion dollars. What’s getting trampled into dust are the voices of people who aren’t rich, not to mention what’s left of our democracy. As Democratic pollster Peter Hart told The New Yorker magazine’s Jane Mayer, “It’s become a situation where the contest is how much you can destroy the system, rather than how much you can make it work. It makes no difference if you have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after your name. There’s no sense that this is about democracy, and after the election you have to work together, and knit the country together.”

These gargantuan Super PAC contributions are not an end in themselves. They are the means to gain control of government – and the nation state — for a reason. The French writer and economist Frederic Bastiat said it plainly: “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” That’s what the Super PACs are bidding on. For the rest of us, the ship may already have sailed.

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  • Anonymous

    How dare you include Ron Paul front and center in the image associated with this artcile on the front page. It’s bad enough the media twists any progress he makes. The last thing he needs is an author with a lot of influence to make people think he falls into the category of these other corporate bought candidates. I challenge you to prove that Ron Paul has been influenced by a major corporation. I know you don’t call-out RP on the article, but there is an implication that he falls in this category by including him on the picture

  • Anonymous

     1. Citizens United was a terrible decision.

    However it is a canard to believe it the substance of influence peddling.

    It is a critical distraction to believe elections or politicians are bought  merely with campaign contributions.

    Huntsman is a recent example of a politician who started with a large infusion of family money and went nowhere.

    Was a Rockefeller of all people “bought” when Jay became a leading
    spokesman for the “FISA” telecom immunity bill which benefited neither
    his party nor his state?

    How were 49 Attorneys General persuaded to fold on the mortgage banking
    settlement, providing friendly closure for the worst swindlers in our
    history? Were all  so spineless that they were afraid of negative ads in
    their next election? Something did “persuade” them and it wasn’t their
    prospects in the next election.

    2. Where the “Wall Street” money is going, says nothing.  For fourteen
    years, three presidents have been following the guidelines essentially
    of Goldman-Sachs former employees.  Obama’s White House is saturated
    with GS trained advisers. The dagger in the heart of our system of
    checks and balances was the impeachment of President Clinton.

    3.  Why is Romney, not Obama, the object of lavish “super-PAC” money?

    Perhaps because voting has become more a religious ritual, and act of
    faith,  “our” party is “our” church, representing the good true and
    beautiful.  In a terrible absence of real values, we become like
    children entranced by words and gestures. In that respect, the wealthy
    are no different than the rest of us. Bewildered, we cling to our
    “Church”  long after it has lost it’s meaning.

    Meanwhile, after the next election and regardless of outcome, a world without values will remain safe for manipulators.

  • Davideros

    “How dare you?” You dare you miss the point :) It’s not just about corporations. It’s the potential for undue influence by individuals, too, individuals with inordinate amounts of money being allowed to pour unlimited amounts of it into a campaign. 

  • Davideros

    HA. I meant, “How dare you miss the point…” Sorry!

  • Anonymous

    “The way of life can be free and beautiful. But we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world in hate; has goose-stepped us into miser and bloodshed. More than machinery, we need humanity.”

    -Charles Spencer Chaplin, 1939

    The greatest speech ever made wasn’t made by a politician or a king. It was made by a little tramp.

     http://tomdegan.blogspot.com/2006/10/chaplin-speaks_116004967991296783.html

    Go figure.

    Tom Degan

  • patrick

    We have to stop blaming the politicians, lawyers, special interests groups and anybody else we can find to point the finger at. The reason these extravagant amounts of money are spent is because it works. When we stop voting for the ones that spend the most money on their campaings and instead vote for the least recognizable name on our ballots, the flow of money will leave politics and we might then get our democracy back. Ultimately it is the power of our vote that counts and we as a people are responsible for fixing what is wrong in our government.

  • Cuzn30

    Ron Paul has been involved with the Kock brothers Cato institute for 20 year. Jess do some basic research.

  • Joady Guthrie

    Bill should make a strong point of mentioning Move To Amend and its proposed amendment to our constitution, when ever he mentions the Supreme Court case
    Citizen’s United. I am a MTA member and working hard to pass this would-be 28th amendment. Please Bill! Don’t neglect Move To Amend’s would-be 28th amendments!!!

  • Anonymous

    Re: the 49 Attorneys General – Do you have any sources on the process that specifies what did persuade them to be so friendly to the swindlers?  I mean are there any minutes, leaks about the negotiations, cancelled checks, pics of corporatists and AGs socially enjoying each other?  Seiously, any info anywhere on what the heck information was exchange over all lthat time?   

  • Anonymous

    FYI – I am a fairly active activist on the social justice front but the amount and quality of information coming with the advent of Bill Moyers and Company has been like trying to drink from a fire hose.  There is so much on so many fronts that I am stunned (or in the Occupy world tasered).  It all has been processing in backgound and I hope to contribute soon. 

  • Anonymous

     You won’t find such a thing because 95+% (or thereabouts ) of litigation is negotiated off the record. Below is a link to an NYU Law panel of high level litigators on the topic which may be as close to the “horse’s mouth” as one can get.
    It is over an hour and predictably tends to be a self-justifying defense of why they settle so leniently. They do cite a few of the problems they have and the context in which they must work.
    It still begs the question of why we the people  allow public advocates to be rendered relatively useless.

    http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2012/02/did-felons-get-a-free-pass-in-the-financial-crisis/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TheBigPicture+%28The+Big+Picture%29

  • Anonymous

    Thanks.  I was able to watch about 1/2 of the video before having to move on and it was very helpful to me.  I will get back to it and finish it out.  Thanks again.

  • Ganjoka

     The problem is there is another 99% in this country.  The ignorant morons that unfortunately make up most of most of the population just don’t know how to think for themselves.  They can’t see the control the 1% has over them and they continue to believe and obey.   The tea party is a perfect example.  Most of them don’t realize they are jumping off the cliff.

  • Maine Coast

    Joady, thanks for mentioning this. I learned about Move To Amend this year and made a donation. We need a lot more notice taken and support given to accomplish this amendment. Keep the word out there.

  • Main Coast

    More devastating than the money are the number of Americans that buy the policies, slogans and ideas that the big money sells. Those in the debate audiences who cheer the plight of citizens in need when they would expect compassion for themselves, is exemplary of why big money is able to divide and conquer. There is no guarantee that democracy will prevail. We all need to fight for it without relying on established politicians and their fat cat sponsers.

  • Sealisa

    An unexpected positive aspect of all this super PAC activity now is that it clearly reveals the role of buying influence and who the buyers are. Obama availing himself of  money benefiting him would negate the intentions of why the super pacs on the Republican side were created. A good example of unintended consequences.

  • Anonymous

    We have been abandoned.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Kennedy/1302494724 David Kennedy

    If we could really have a choice then the financial thing would be somewhat diminished.  The democrat’s have no choice this year.  I have to give the republicans some credit.  Ron Paul is 180 degrees on many issues from most of the other republican candidates.  They’re kicking and screaming, blacking him out (along with the democrat’s) but he’s there.  Where’s the choice on the democratic side?  To me that’s the clue.  Who is big money blacking out.  Overall the democrats and republicans are protecting the big money no matter what they say.  I’ll be glad to give examples on both sides.  It’s funny!!!  I’m watching PBS right now….Obama just said we have got to do something to make college more affordable for student.  They want to make it easier to borrow more money!  HUH lol!!!!  Coming straight from the big bankers!

  • JohnnyE

    Hammurabi (eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth guy) was the first guy on record to create a system of laws during the early days of Civilization.  It was things like how you’d be punished if you cheated on weights & measures in the market.  

    He said the primary purpose of government was to protect the weak from the powerful.  I think we got it backwards somewhere along the line.

  • JohnnyE

    At least all that money floating around will stimulate the economy.   Maybe the Republicons will go broke by the time they choose a candidate.