Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Is That All You've Got?": That "Liberal Media" & Money, Again

Money in American politics isn't just the most important story in American politics; it's the only one. To quote myself on the point, "U.S. politics are all about money. It overwhelms every other consideration. A lack of understanding of this basic fact precludes any understanding of U.S. politics."

You wouldn't know this from the coverage money gets in much of the "mainstream" corporate press. The stories do get reported from time to time, it's true, but they're inevitably offered in a vacuum, without any proper foundation. It's never a subject covered in the comprehensive fashion that would be necessary to give it the proper context. Given the weight it merits, it would lead the news nearly every night. As it stands, stories of money in politics are treated as man-bites-dog tales, while we get intense, detailed, around-the-clock coverage of things like the rescue of the Chilean miners--"human interest" stories that don't affect anyone beyond those directly involved.

The big Money story at the moment is how Big Money is purchasing the November elections. In the wake of the grotesque Citizens United decision foisted on us, earlier this year, by our Supreme Court, "independent" expenditures in many of the congressional races around the country are actually outpacing the money spent by the candidates themselves. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that
"Business associations, unions and ideological groups have more than doubled their spending on political advertisements and messaging when compared to the entire 2006 federal midterm, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis indicates."
CRP also notes that spending by corporate-sponsored PACs has already more than tripled over the previous mid-term elections.

Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming beneficiaries of this are the Republicans, whose shameless pro-corporate, pro-wealthy, pro-Big-Money politics are offered without the threatening (but empty) populist rhetoric sometimes served up by the Democrats when they're trolling for votes. In the first three weeks of September, Republican-leaning groups outspent Democratic-leaning groups 7-to-1. A week ago, the CRP reported that
"Eight of the top 10 [outside] groups are conservative with one bi-partisan and one liberal group. Since September 1, identifiably conservative groups have spent $25.8 million, liberal groups $5.6 million, and bipartisan or nonpartisan groups $4.1 million."
The Political Correction project of Media Matters For America has documented that only 10 conservative groups have, between Aug. 1st and Oct. 11th, financed an incredible 60,052 attack ads aimed at liberal candidates--almost all Democrats--on behalf of their conservative opponents.

One of the major players in this orgy of spending is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Among other things, it has financed over 8,000 attack ads on behalf of Republican Senate candidates this year, and has promised to spend $75 million against liberal candidates around the country. Earlier this month, a ThinkProgress investigation revealed that the Chamber is financing this operation out of its general fund, a fund which solicits and accepts significant contributions from foreign sources. One would think this would set off some alarms in a press corps that always proves itself an enthusiastic conduit for any xenophobic (and generally baseless) allegation about sinister foreign influence on Democratic politicians, but, when the shoe was on the other foot (or, more to the point, on the other party), the matter actually received no significant coverage until the Obama and his underlings raised this issue. It briefly cracked the news cycle at that point, but only long enough for much of the press to dismiss it as baseless and irrelevant, and to characterize it as a last-minute desperation tactic.

That was certainly the case when CBS's Bob Schieffer asked White House adviser David Axelrod if he had any evidence that the Chamber was using foreign money to finance its campaign activity. Axelrod's reply was, "Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?" Schieffer was unimpressed. "Is that all you've got?"

On the surface, Axelrod's reply sounds rather lame--it's always incumbent upon someone making an allegation to offer evidence of it--but it actually gets to the heart of an important part of the Chamber story, a part Schieffer was sidestepping with his withering retort: the Chamber's fat $75 million wad to attack Democrats has been collected from sources that aren't publicly disclosed. That much money is involved, and the donors are entirely secret. We know foreign sources give to the fund from which the Chamber drew that money. We don't know how much they give. More importantly, we don't know how much anyone has given, or even who has given.

While it's no small matter that China, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and other foreign concerns may be using outfits like the Chamber to pour money into U.S. elections, the narrow focus, by the White House, on "foreign" contributions was unfortunate, in that it allowed that much larger point to be missed. Nearly half of all the very Big Money presently being poured, by outside groups, into the elections on behalf of Republicans come from groups that don't even publicly disclose the source of that money.[*] What we have, then, is a mind-bogglingly huge wad of cash, intended to manipulate the outcome of U.S. elections, and we, the public, don't know where a dime of it came from. Politico reports that
"Never in modern political history has there been so much secret money gushing into an American election. By Election Day, independent groups will have aired more than $200 million worth of campaign ads using cash that can't be traced back to its original source."
That's important. No formulation of Responsible Citizenship would allow one to dismiss it.

Responsible Citizenship doesn't guide everyone, though. This summer, before this deluge, a Democratic initiative that would have at least made these groups disclose their donors was blocked when all 41 Republicans in the Senate--who are, of course, the beneficiaries of the current state of things--voted to filibuster it. An effort to revive it last month was similarly killed.

So there you have it. Is that all I've got? I'd say that was quite enough.


[*] By contrast, in the 2006 midterm elections, over 90% of outside groups publicly identified the source of their funds.


'Niceguy' Eddie said...

There was a really easy, 2-part answer to Schieffer's question, and Axelrod's an IDIOT for saying what he did:

1) The CoC acknolwedges 300,000 foreign members, and upwards of $300,000 worth of direct contributions from the US-Bahrain and US-India Business Concuils alone. They don't break it down, or show the details, but they say they have a system (which they also won't discuss) so that none of that money goes into their PAC.

THAT argumnet is completely trumped by the following reality:

2) Money is fungible.

It ain't that hard, unless you're trying to tell the truth while still carrying water for Conservative and/or Corporate interets. THEN it's almost impossible.

But then... that what's we've come to expect form our "Messiah" and his apostles... I mean CABINET, isn't it?

These clowns deserve to lose. The rest of us just don't deserve the inevitable fallout from it.

Great piece.

classicliberal2 said...

I think the intense focus on the potential foreign contributions was a mistake. The real story here is that there are millions upon millions of dollars funding attack ads against liberal candidates all over the U.S.--frequently more money than the candidates and parties are spending--and we have no idea where ANY of that money is coming from. The Chamber of Commerce is spending $75 million this year trying to defeat Democrats, and doesn't disclose the source of a penny of it. Rove's American Crossroads is spending something like $50 million this year attacking Democrats, with, again, no disclosure. It's overwhelming spending by the candidates themselves, and we don't know its source.