The United States is no longer a democracy. Not only have we coughed up many of our civil liberties, but the most important ‘voice’ (read: voter) in the election process is The Corporation. Yes, we can lay this on the doorstep of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). In a 5-4 decision, the SCOTUS granted corporations the same rights as people (this is generally called ‘corporate personhood’). In essence, conservative Justices Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy and Alito basically ruled that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prevents the government from banning political spending by corporations and unions in candidate elections. (Of course, I know that some will argue that Kennedy is not ‘conservative,’ but the fact is that he sides with the ‘conservative’ Justices more often than not.) The dissenters, as you might predict, were the more liberal Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor. The result? Super PACS. Now, the next logical question should be “What is a super PAC?”
The superPAC is the same as a regular PAC (Political Action Committee) without many of the regulations. A superPAC can both raise and spend unlimited amounts of money for the sole purpose of supporting or opposing political candidates of a particular political party. It can also directly attack a candidate running for political office. The only restriction is that a Super PAC cannot coordinate directly with candidates or political parties, but the super PAC really doesn’t need direct coordination in order to be a major player in the 2012 election process. Many of these entities are staffed by longtime supporters of the candidates themselves.
We’ve already seen the super PACs power in the Iowa Straw Poll. Although Iowa is considered a meaningless sideshow according to Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi (a writer I respect very much), the effect the Romney-leaning super PAC had on the results cannot be denied. Mitt Romney eeked out an eight-vote win over Rick Santorum in Iowa, but the fact is that Romney reached the level of his support (25%) in Iowa only two other times in this early presidential contest (once in July and the other in October). According to federal data, the Restore Our Future super PAC has spent about $1.2 million in advertising since Christmas on Romneys behalf (most of it targeting Newt Gingrich) and had a direct impact on the results, thus providing a preview of how critical the super PAC will be when it comes to the meaningful battles that lay ahead.
But don’t kid yourself. The effect of the super PAC will be felt on both sides of the aisle. Fred Wertheimer of watchdog group Democracy21 and an outspoken critic of superPACs, says “They are vehicles for big donors to circumvent the contribution limits and give money that directly benefits the candidates.” Karl Rove’s American Crossroads has already been busy at work in Massachusetts running ads against Elizabeth Warren, who is trying to unseat incumbent GOP senator Scott Brown. American Crossroads has already pledged to spend tens of millions of dollars to unseat Barack Obama. On the other side of the aisle, super PAC Priorities USA Action will spend millions to get Obama re-elected in 2012.
They say every cloud has a silver lining. There seems to be a growing backlash against Citizens United. In Montana, the State Supreme Court has rebuked the SCOTUS by upholding the constitutionality of the 1912 Corrupt Practices Act which prohibits corporations from making contributions to or donations on behalf of state political candidates and parties. After the ruling, State Attorney General Steve Bullock called it a victory for all Montanans, stating that, “For over 100 years, Montana has had an electoral system that preserves the integrity of the political process, encourages full participation, and safeguards against corruption. This week, the New York City Council voted to eliminate corporate personhood. At least seven states have taken up such measures. Unfortunately, Congress will have to be involved to overturn the 2010 Citizens United ruling. Four amendments were introduced to do just that in 2011, including one by Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. In order for any of these to pass, however, two-thirds of lawmakers in both the house and senate must vote in favor of that change. It is a long, hard road.
The loser this election season is the American people, whose voice grows weaker and weaker as the election process becomes more and more tainted by the almighty dollar.