Ah, democracy. It was nice while it lasted, because, if the essence of democracy is honest and fair elections, democracy doesn't exist anymore. This election has been bought and sold by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove. And nobody cares.
Here are the facts. In this year's midterm elections, the Chamber is spending $75 to $80 million on TV commercials to elect their acolytes to the House and Senate. Except for a handful of Democrats, all the money is going to Republican candidates.
Who's providing this mountain of cash to the Chamber? Oil companies? Banks? Insurance companies? Nobody knows … except the Chamber and its corporate sources – because, under the Supreme Court's recent Citizens United ruling, the Chamber is no longer legally required to disclose the names of its donors. And it refuses to do so.
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As first reported by Think Progress, the Chamber also receives significant political contributions from more than 80 foreign-owned companies in 115 countries, and those funds are deposited into the same 501(c)(6) account used to pay for political ads. If you believe the Chamber, they carefully segregate their revenue stream so that no foreign dollars are used to pay for campaign ads – which would, of course, be illegal. That seems unlikely, if not impossible. But, again, nobody knows the truth. Because there's no disclosure.
In addition to the Chamber, several other stealth committees have popped up, including "American Crossroads," created by Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie, which has already exceeded its goal of raising $50 million to support Republican House and Senate candidates. Together with the Chamber, predicts Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, those groups will spend more than $200 million in this year's midterm elections – more than the Democratic and Republican National Committees combined.
Whether foreign funds are involved or not, the massive amounts of secret special-interest spending in this election should concern all Americans, because it seriously undermines our democratic process. Even if we can't escape the avalanche of TV ads, we should at least know who's paying for them – as argued by President Obama in announcing his support for this year's Disclose Act: "Now, of course, every organization has every right in this country to make their voices heard. But the American people also have the right to know when some group like 'Citizens for a Better Future' is actually funded entirely by 'Corporations for Weaker Oversight.'" That legislation – which would have required full disclosure by all organizations, whether the Sierra Club or the Big Oil Club – was killed in the Senate after heavy lobbying against it by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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And no sooner had Obama repeated his call for full disclosure in spending for the midterms, than Karl Rove and the Chamber cried foul. Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist for the Chamber, complained of the president's "smear tactics." Rove even accused him of keeping "an enemies list." Which, of course, Rove should know something about. Just ask Valerie Plame.
Rove's whining is especially suspect considering the fact that, until the high court's Citizens United ruling, it was Republicans, not Democrats, who insisted on full disclosure. The political process "ought to have full disclosure, full disclosure of all of the money that we raise and how it is spent," said House Minority Leader John Boehner on "Meet the Press" in February 2007. "And I think that sunlight is the best disinfectant." But that was then, and this is now. Republicans were for disclosure, before they were against it.
In the end, who's kidding whom? There's only one reason Rove and the Chamber don't want to release the names of their donors. Because they don't want to confirm what we already know: that their ads are being paid for by banks who want to return to their old rapacious practices, by oil companies who want no restrictions on when and where they can drill and by insurance companies who want to go back to denying coverage based on a pre-existing medical condition. They want more anti-consumer votes in the House and Senate, and they're willing to pay any price – and maybe even break the law – to get them.
So much for 2010. With $200 million in secret contributions, special interests have already bought and sold this election. I can't wait to see how much money they spend in 2012.