Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Aftermath of Citizens United: No Longer About the Presidency It's All About the Benjamins

If you notice the title of this article, there's an irony in that Benjamin Franklin who graces our hundred-dollar bill is one of the primary Founders who never served as U.S. President.

I'm writing this because a few things happened this weekend: first, the GOP decided to kill off the much-worshiped but horribly-skewed Iowa Straw Poll after 40 years of making the Beltway media foam at the mouth over the horse race that is our Presidential campaign system.

It consists of a tiny and unrepresentative sample of voters in a small, overwhelmingly white state. Its importance depends almost entirely on the perceptions of the political elites and the news media. The spin after the vote often matters as much as the vote itself. Its rules can be surprisingly informal, to the point that baked goods are sometimes exchanged for the promise of a vote. And it has a terrible track record at predicting the GOP’s presidential nominee...
...From the standpoint of the parties, the purpose of the Iowa Straw Poll is not necessarily to pick winners but to narrow (or “winnow”) the field. (In some years, this applies to the Iowa caucus too...) In that sense, the biggest danger from the straw poll is not a “false positive” — an insurgent candidate like Michele Bachmann winning when she has little shot at the nomination — but rather a “false negative,” meaning an establishment candidate like Tim Pawlenty making a big bet on the straw poll and coming up with a disappointing performance, as happened four years ago...

What was happening was that the big-name guys - not just the Establishment candidate like Jeb but also headliners like Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee (who oddly enough did well in the Iowa straw poll and caucus back in 2008 to mark his near-successful foray back then) - were opting out to focus on a more broad national campaign and better positioning for the more-important televised debates.  The other big name in the race - Scott Walker - was hesitating, because he stood to benefit the most from the poll and from winning Iowa early but was worried if the results weren't positive enough.

There was something else at play as well: The Sugar Daddy.

The results of the Citizens United ruling - that fund-raising for political campaigns can pretty much be unregulated as "free speech" - outside fund-raisers can plug in as much money to their hearts' content into a campaign and nobody can stop it.  As long as those outside groups (once called Political Action Committees but once billions are poured in they're now SuperPACs) didn't directly co-ordinate with the specific campaign(s) - say with me now, HA HA - they are untouchable.

What this means is that a campaigner for the White House can run all year long with a SuperPAC footing most of the bill and make him/herself a national figure able to get easy speaking gigs at $100,000 guest lectures and a permanent invite to the Sunday Talk Show green rooms.  And that's the legal stuff, God knows how much of this money is flowing into people's pockets (hi, Rubio!) and not, you know, actual GOTV efforts.

As the National Journal put it last year:

Forget Des Moines. The epicenter of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign last week was in Dallas.
Harlan Crow, the real estate magnate and conservative financier who calls the city home, arrived there fresh from watching the Super Bowl in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's private box. On Tuesday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker flew into town for a reelection fundraiser at Crow's $24 million mansion. Later in the week, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky shared a flight from D.C. to Dallas—and then bumped into each other outside the office of one of the city's GOP donors whom they were both wooing...
...Two years before any primary votes will be cast and long before any official campaign launches, Cruz, Paul, and others are already crisscrossing the country to win the hearts and wallets of the wealthiest Americans.
The race for a 2016 super-PAC sugar daddy is on...
...The rise of SuperPACs has amplified and accelerated the quadrennial donor chase. Candidates now know a single billionaire can make or break their fortunes—as they saw in 2012, when mega-donors Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess propped up the candidacies of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum...

Playing to the base voters for primaries has gotten to be the easy part of a campaign: just stick to the basic messaging of "Blame Obama, Blame Librul Fascists, Blame Feminists, Blame Satan, Blame Minorities, Blame Obama Some More" and let the hate flow through the crowds.  All that matters now is getting money.  Always the dollars.  Always the dollars.

(I'm not even able to fit in a scathing put-down of Ted Cruz's whining for more money here, well maybe I can as an aside...)

And the deep-pocket fund-raisers know it.  And the party leadership itself is starting to catch on because the Republicans themselves are suddenly realizing they're getting their jobs outsourced.  Via (with a hat-tip to Yahoo! News): 
The party started to lose its bearings as long ago, as in the ’90s when it took on the self-righteousness of a religious crusade with its unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of a Democratic president. The undisciplined behavior that characterized that time was sanctioned by Party officials and led by long standing movement figures and conservative media stars. They apparently didn’t realize that they were creating a monster of a grassroots base that would someday call itself the Tea Party. In fact, it seemed to come as complete surprise when the monster turned on them in recent years and took the Party into its own hands. Republicans who had spent half a century deriding their opposition for being “appeasers” suddenly found themselves walking on eggshells, scared to death to cross their own voters who took all their messaging seriously and expected results. Even with a congressional majority, Republican elected leaders found they no longer had the power to negotiate or make a deal on the party’s behalf.
They also did not seem to realize that this monster is extremely wealthy and very, very powerful. And it is taking control...
The RNC is now openly arguing … that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file, and to gain influence over — some even say control of — the GOP.
“I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how,” said Katie Walsh, the RNC’s chief of staff.
The Republican base has exerted its strength at the ballot box the last few cycles by challenging and beating incumbents, even some in the leadership like former House majority leader Eric Cantor. Now the Koch Brothers, the wealthy patrons of the Tea Party cause, are taking over the voter data files. You can certainly see why the party establishment might be alarmed...

Like it or hate it, the United States political system thrives on a two-party system: One party stood for something on the issues, One party stood for conflicting position on those issues, the American people tried to decide between them which would solve those issues best.  For the most part it's worked since the days of Adams and Jefferson's transition of power, with the glaring exception of the fall into Civil War because one party - the Democrats of the 1800s - fell under the control of extremist oligarchs (rich Southern slaveowners) who denied the sins of slavery and drove to either rule or ruin the nation.

We're facing the same situation today.  Rich and powerful elites - in the form of corporate overlords who can and do profit from unregulated industries - are pretty much buying ownership control of one party: the Republicans (and they're putting enough money into the other party - the Democrats - to cover their bets).

...Let’s just say that in the Kochs’ minds, taking over the Republican Party and benefiting their massive multinational corporation are the same thing. (If you would like to see what it might mean in practical terms if the Koch party were to politically dominate the nation this Rolling Stone article about their business practices will give you nightmares.) And considering that the Kochs have openly worked at taking over the party since the 1980s, this is not exactly a secret.

This is the end result of Citizens United: not a lot of Free Speech, but basically the rich people Buying political control and Selling to the nation a false bill of goods.

The only good thing we Americans can hope for is Caveat Emptor: that a majority of us voters are savvy enough customers to recognize the lemon that the Kochs' SuperPAC Republican candidate is going to be, and avoid voting for that train-wreck of a candidate.  What happened last election kind of gives me some hope: for all the money the GOP threw at the election, it didn't translate into GOTV ground efforts (100 million yard signs do not equal eager voters) nor make Mitt likable enough to win.

Still, voters need to remember this one rule: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT VOTE REPUBLICAN.

No comments: