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Is There a Billionaire Cancellation Effect?

By: Robert Weissman

The Republicans have their billionaires, the Democrats have theirs. What’s the big kerfuffle about campaign spending, right?


As it happens, the Republican Party is benefiting more, by far, from the spending abuses authorized by U.S. Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) and this year’s McCutcheon v. FEC. But more important than tallying who is more sullied by Big Money is addressing the systemic problem of corporate and super-rich dominance of our elections.

That’s why the U.S. Senate vote this week on a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore our democracy is so important, and why it’s so important that the Democracy for All Amendment be adopted as the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

First, the facts. Campaign spending has exploded since the Citizens United decision was handed down in 2010. The most important effect of Citizens United was to permit corporations and the super-rich to spend unlimited sums to influence elections, as long as their contributions go to outside groups, not directly to candidates. As a result, reported outside spending tripled from 2008 to 2012. Spending this year is sure to blow away previous records for a mid-term election. Pro-Republican outside spending was more than double the amount of pro-Democratic spending in 2012, and is running ahead again this election cycle. There was still more than $300 million spent in favor of Democrats, so the problem is definitely bipartisan, but it’s not equal.

Dark money – the undisclosed money channeled through trade associations and social welfare organizations – has skyrocketed since 2010. From almost 100 percent disclosure of outside spending in 2006, we’re now below 50 percent. Undisclosed money – much of it channeled through Koch Brother-affiliated organizations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS – overwhelmingly favors Republicans. In 2012, the margin was 7-1 ($265 million versus $35 million).

The McCutcheon decision held unconstitutional the previous limit on how much an individual can contribute in total to candidates, parties and political committees. Already, in 2014, as of 58 people have contributed $100,000 or more to joint fundraising committees. Fifty-one of them directed all of those joint fundraising committee donations to Republicans.

All that said, the problem of Big Money in politics is bipartisan – or, better stated, and more disturbingly so, it is systemic. More than ever, candidates have to devote their time to raising money – Georgia Democratic senate candidate Michelle Nunn’s advisors urged her to spend 80 percent of her time on fundraising until the final month of the campaign – and that means their spending their time with and talking to the small fraction of the population that can write big checks. Elected officials in both parties owe allegiance to their deep-pocketed donors and the giant outside spenders. And every elected official knows that, if they choose to upset powerful corporate interests, they may have to face a multi-million dollar negative advertising campaign in the next election.

The result is that the giant corporations and super-rich have more easy and direct influence in Washington, D.C., than any time since the Gilded Age.

This week’s vote on a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore our democracy is anything but a “distraction” or partisan diversion, as some opponents have said. The vote is as important as any the Congress will take this year, because the deep corruption of our politics induced by Big Money control of our elections is blocking progress on almost every issue of importance to the American people: creating jobs, raising the minimum wage, adopting a fair tax system, passing a federal budget that serves the broad interests of the America people, winning fair trade rules, preventing catastrophic climate change, addressing wealth and income inequality, ensuring healthcare for all, and much more.

Billionaires on each side of the aisle do not cancel each other out. They comprise plutocracy.

A democracy – a government of, by and for the people – demands that every person count equally, that the super-rich do not gain super influence by virtue of their wealth and spending. We can restore that democracy – and we must – with the Democracy for All Amendment.