“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps right that wrong.” President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 27, 2010.
“What seems like really big money is less than a yacht. [Wealthy donors] could decide this year, instead of buying a new yacht, I’m going to spend $70 million on a candidate.” Former House Speaker and Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich, Washington Post, April 27, 2015
The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission changed all the rules. Basically the sky became the limit as far as how much a donor can spend. Money is free speech we are told, which is probably the corollary to Mitt Romney’s “corporations are people.”
Strangely another Supreme Court decision last week said that judges who run for office cannot directly ask for campaign donations in Florida. The opinion of Chief Justice Roberts said that such solicitations would taint elected judges, but he drew a distinction between judges and elected executives and legislators soliciting campaign funds. The Chief Justice wrote about the State of Florida’s “compelling interest in preserving the integrity of the judiciary, and it does so through means narrowly tailored to avoid unnecessarily abridging speech…” Which seems to mean either that either judicial candidates are more prone to being tainted by campaign funds than executives and legislators; or that we shouldn’t be concerned about about executives and legislators becoming tainted. Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain in Albany.
Recent news stories have been detailing the vast sums of money that are being assembled for the 2016 presidential race. I won’t bore you with all the details, but here are a few highlights:
- The famous Koch brothers let it be known that they plan to raise and spend with some of their cohorts about $900,000,000 for the 2016 elections
- Marco Rubio’s Super PAC raised $20,000,000 in a recent two week period. Florida billionaire Norman Braman, has committed $10,000,000 to his Super PAC.
- Ted Cruz’s Super PACs raised $31,000,000 in a single week
- Some Republican believe that Jeb Bush’s Super PAC will raise $100,000,000 by the end of May
- Hillary Clinton may not at this moment have as single benefactor who is dropping tens of millions of dollars on her campaign, but check back in a few months.
Now think back to President Obama’s State of Union address in January 2010 when he complained that big money was corrupting the political process. And who can forgot Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito shaking his head as he heard the president, and muttering “Not true.” Well, Mr. Justice, it is true.
By law individuals can only donate $2,700 to a federal candidate for a primary, and another $2,700 for the general election. This seemingly antiquated way of raising money for a federal election still works. Bernie Sanders quickly raised $1,500,000 from 35,000 people after he announced his candidacy, an average of less than $43 re person. Others are doing likewise. For the most part, however,that is just window dressing. The campaigns and nominations will be run and won with Super PAC money. Get ready for buying of the presidency 2016.
There is speculation that one of the results of the Super PAC craze may be that instead of helping the Republican Party arrive at its nominee for president more quickly than in 2012, the big money will delay the decision because the money of billionaires and the merely multimillionaires will prop up some candidates well beyond their shelf life as they fail to win early primaries and caucuses. That occurred in 2012 when some very rich folks managed to keep Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum going a lot longer than they would have in previous presidential election cycles.
The founding fathers abhorred political parties, so they would certainly not be happy with Super PACs. Isn’t it ironic the candidates who believe that the Constitution was brought down from the mountain along with the 10 Commandments are now rushing to take advantage of political activities never conceived of by the founding fathers?
An Albany footnote
A line from Buffalo Springfield’s song For What it’s Worth is running through my head. “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” If Joe Illuzzi or Glen Gramigna were still alive they would be having a field day with all the gossip coming out of Albany these days. The newspapers and other media have it more than well covered, so I won’t get into the thicket.
But it is all very disturbing and doesn’t seem to be at an end any time soon. Why is it, in a world filled with recording devices, Google and multiple media outlets to report the truth and other things not true, that politicians and the private sector people they interact with think they can get away with anything?