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 even though voting day is months away, we can already see the results of the thuggish power they bestowed on the moneyed few.
In this year’s Republican nominating contests, 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: SuperPACs! 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 SuperPACs.)
These new entities amassed and spent vastly more than the campaigns of the actual candidates. Nearly all of this SuperPAC 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 SuperPACs 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! Not only are SuperPACs and candidates tighter than the bark on a tree, but allowing unlimited special-interest money into campaigns is inherently corrupting.
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 über-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 SuperPACs were having one-on-one conversations with each candidate “in quiet rooms” (as Mitt Romney so-genteelly put it). There, they flexed their enormous money muscle to make certain that the core Republican agenda would be their own, squarely-focused on the narrow economic, financial, environ- mental, governmental, and international interests of the 0.01 percent.
As of May 4, this corporate clique had poured an unprecedented $94 million into the SuperPACs of the leading five GOP contenders (with $52 million of that going to Renew Our Future, Romney’s money funnel). This firepower was all the more potent because it was targeted at only the few thousand voters in each state who participated in the caucuses and primaries. And it bought just what the moneybags wanted–the lockstep commitment by all contenders that–no matter how they might differ on abortion, gay-bashing, and such–they would govern according to the Holy Kochian vision of a regulation-free, union-free, tax-free America. Thus, no matter which horse any of the multimillionaires and billionaires bet on, they would cash-in as winners, for this tiny group now owns one of America’s two major parties (and, yes, often rents the other).
The result is a suicidal diversion of our country’s political process from addressing the urgent needs of the majority (and of the country itself). Instead, the presidential and congressional debate has wandered down the rabbit hole into the Mad Hatter’s tea party, where the number one political priority is to protect and extend the wealth and power of the privileged class! There’s an old-time word for this: plutocracy. Throughout our nation’s history, that word has been an expletive, an anti-democratic abomination. Astonishingly, however, it’s back with a vengeance. We see in Congress, in numerous state governments, in the media establishment, in corporate-funded academia, and now in the race for president an all-out push to ennoble rank plutocrats as “job creators,” to emasculate the people’s authority to control the narcissism of the rich, and to make American citizens swallow the lie that corporations are “people” with a constitutional right to purchase our democracy.
SuperPACs 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) non-profit “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 of dozen donors chipping in from $1 million to $10 million each.
Name that plutocrat!
If they’re trying to purchase our elections, shouldn’t we at least know who they are? At your service! In this issue of the Lowdown, we’ll focus on the check writers fueling the SuperPACs, giving you a snapshot of the biggest of these heavy hitters, including indi-cations of what they want for their generosity. Let’s start with the “Super-Duper Seven.” Of the $94 million amassed by SuperPACs backing the major GOP wannabes (Romney, Santorum, Paul, Gingrich, and Perry), nearly half came from these seven men:
Sheldon Adelson, $21.5 million. “I’m against very wealthy people attempting to influence elections,” Adelson asserted in Forbes magazine in February, “But as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it.” Nice code of ethics there: It’s wrong, but count me in. One of the 10 richest billionaires in our country, this 78-year-old longtime funder of Republicans and the ultra-right literally built his fortune on gaming the system. He now reigns over the Las Vegas Sands Corporation that runs luxury casinos in the US and China’s special administrative region, Macau.
By the grace of Citizens United, America has Adelson to thank for Newt Gingrich’s preposterous presidential run this year, for he single-handedly kept the insufferable blowhard in the race by dumping a stunning $21.5 million into Gingrich’s Winning Our Future SuperPAC. He said he was willing to put down $100 million on the Newt to win the nomination, but alas, the candidate was so pompous and unpleasant that few people besides Sheldon found him appealing.
It’s not that Adelson was in a swoon over Gingrich –rather, he knows from experience that the former Speaker would do some heavy lifting for him if he won. In the mid-1990s, Gingrich went to Nevada to support the casino boss in a fight to weaken unions, and he later helped move a bill in Washington that was beneficial to gaming moguls. He also became an ardent advocate of Adelson’s rabid right-wing embrace of Israel’s most fanatical nationalistic factions. In turn, Adelson has been a reliable donor over the years to various branches of Dr. Newt’s Snake Oil Emporium. He is quite fluent in quid pro quo, and he certainly could use a trusted consigliere in the White House these days, for his gaming conglomerate is under scrutiny by two federal agencies over accusations that it bribed its way into China.
Newt’s gone, but Adelson is not. He’s expected to appear on Romney’s list of super-givers, and he suggests that next he will funnel untold sums of money into an anti-Obama “(c)(4),” such as Rove’s Crossroads GPS.
Harold Simmons, $5.2 million. An 80-year-old multi-billionaire based in Dallas, this hardcore rightist is both a corporate buccaneer and political profiteer, often combining the two to line his own pockets. A sterling example of this was his investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in Rick Perry’s gubernatorial runs. Then, with a grateful governor in power, one of Simmons’ corporate entities, Waste Control Specialists, applied in 2004 for the permit to build and run the state-authorized nuclear waste dump. After studies and hearings, however, scientists at the state environmental agency nixed WCS’s West Texas site, for it endangered the invaluable Ogallala freshwater aquifer. Out of the blue, though, the agency’s executive director (appointed by Perry) nixed the scientific nix, formally recommending to the agency’s commissioners (appointed by Perry) that they approve the WCS application for the license, which they did. The director has since resigned his state position to become a lobbyist–for WCS.
Simmons was all over the GOP primary contests this year, betting on various candidates as one after another surged in the polls. He put a million bucks behind Perry, $1.1 million behind Gingrich, $1.2 million behind Santorum, and presently has $800,000 on Romney. But his favorite role is political assassin– he bankrolled the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s untruthful ambush of John Kerry’s campaign in 2004, and he was the sole funder of a nasty PR attempt in 2008 to tie Obama to a former radical from the 1960s. “If we had run more ads,” Simmons later bemoaned to the Wall Street Journal, “we could have killed Obama.”
He’s trying harder this year, having already put $12 million into a Karl Rove SuperPAC that’s presently softening up Obama with a series of early attack ads.
Bob Perry, $4.1 million. Even though they’re unrelated, this 79-year-old Houston homebuilding tycoon is nonetheless Gov. Rick’s “daddy,” having fathered his gubernatorial career with a big infusion of money and nurtured it with more cash over the years than anyone. And when daddy calls, Rick jumps. For instance, after Texas homeowners began filing mold-related lawsuits against Perry Homes and other builders in 2003, the furious billionaire got his boy to pass a law that shunted aggrieved consumers away from the courts into a new regulatory agency called the Residential Construction Commission. This body was such an industry-controlled sham that it even embarrassed the Texas legislature, which dismantled it in 2009.
In the current campaign, Perry dropped a token $100,000 into Rick’s 2012 presidential flop, before putting $4 million into Romney’s SuperPAC. In addition, Perry has been a longtime deep pocket for Karl Rove’s right-wing rampages and other extremist political ventures, including being top donor to the 2004 “Swift Boat” ad blitz and–no surprise–then giving $500,000 to Wisconsin’s autocratic, anti-worker governor, Scott Walker. Rove’s Obama-bashing SuperPAC has already banked $2.5 million from Perry for this year’s election mischief and will likely be blessed with much more.
Next comes a covey of four SuperPAC donors of at least $2 million each:
Peter Thiel, a one-time Wall Street derivatives trader who later founded and was CEO of PayPal Inc., as well as being an early investor in Facebook. This internet billionaire has long been involved in anti-government ideological groups, including such Koch-funded operations as the Federalist Society and the Pacific Research Institute. He has become the best pay pal by far of Ron Paul’s Endorse Liberty SuperPAC, filling it with $2.7 million.
William Doré, chieftain of Doré Energy, his eponymous oil & gas corporation based in Louisiana. A newcomer to the big-game safari of national politics, the 69-year-old near-billionaire got turned on by Rick Santorum’s religio-politico crusade, putting $2.25 million into the donation plate of his Red White and BlueSuperPAC.
Foster Friess, a multimillionaire stock speculator (Brandywine Fund) who moved to Wyoming because of its regulatory leniency and tax-friendliness to the wealthy. This vain and boorish 71-year-old has been a major donor to Christian, Republican, and radical right causes (including at least a million bucks to Koch fronts and campaigns), and he helped fuel Santorum’s SuperPAC with $2.25 million this year.
Steven Lund, the former president of Nu-Skin, a Utah-based vitamin-supplement-ointment direct marketer that has a history of legal problems over accusations that it is a pyramid scheme. He turns out to be the secret source of two, separate million-dollar donations to Romney’s SuperPAC, one listed as coming from “F8 LLC” and the other from “Eli Publishing.” While both “companies” reported that their business address was “Suite #420” in a Provo office building, there is no such suite, nor do the companies exist. Lund says he used the fake storefronts because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself.
Thanks a million!
Of course, in our Brave New SuperPAC Democracy, you don’t have to give two-to-20 million dollars to be considered a valuable citizen–as little as $1 million can buy you some influence in your government!
One group that is buying heavily into Romney’s Restore Our Future SuperPAC is a band of citizens that feels the government is inattentive to their needs: Wall Street bankers. Hedge fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin issued the group’s poignant cry for justice: “I think [the wealthy] actually have insufficient influence [in Washington]. Those who have enjoyed the benefits of our system [must] protect the system.”
Accordingly, this patriot of plutocracy has put just over a million into Romney’s fund and another million into Rove’s SuperPAC.
These one-percenters understand that Restore Our Future is a code–meaning their future–not yours and mine–and the SuperPACs’ biggest source of cash is from the high-rollers of high finance. Mitt is, after all, one of them, and he has taken a blue-blood oath to “protect the system” of rigged rules, lax regulation, and extraordinary tax breaks that create their wealth.
This is what it means to let unlimited special-interest money gush into American politics–it dethrones democratic rule, corrupts government, increases both wealth disparity and social injustice, and destroys essential public trust in our society’s commitment to fairness. SuperPACs 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.