Thursday, September 01, 2016

Vast Sums Of Money-- From Oligarchs Or From Candidates-- Are Overturning Democracy Itself


Maryland's 8th congressional district was gerrymandered by a Democratic controlled state legislature eager to make sure just one Republican would ever go to Congress from Maryland. The district has a PVI of D+11 and Obama won there with over 60% both times he ran. Although the district goes all the way up through Mount Airy to the Pennsylvania border and it includes rural Republican precincts in Carroll and Frederick counties, it really extends right out of northern Washington, DC and most of the votes come out of Silver Spring, Rockville, Bethesda and Takoma Park in Montgomery County. Generally, there are twice as many MD-08 votes cast from Montgomey County than from Carroll and Frederick combined. When longtime congressman, Chris Van Hollen announced he was leaving the seat to run for the Senate, a dozen Democrats jumped in. In the end 9 ran and the best man actually won-- Jamie Raskin.

Two big self-funders came in second and third. Chris Matthews' wife, a garden variety upper class Democratic shit-head and lobbyist backed by the odious EMILY's List (which wasted $291,388 on her campaign) put in $640,000 of her own money, which was dwarfed by a local booze merchant, David Trone, who tried to buy the seat with an astonishing $13,414,225 of his own money. This is how the 3 top vote-getters fared on election day:
Jamie Raskin- 38,902 (33.7%)
David Trone- 31,529 (27.3%)
Kathleen Matthews- 27,401 (23.8%)
None of the other candidates got even close to getting out of single digits. Trone, who doesn't stand for anything in particular-- and who contributes both to establishment Democrats and establishment Republicans-- but never to progressives-- bragged as mightily as Mr. Trumpanzee that he was a self-funder and that he would be unbought. It didn't persuade many Marylanders that that merited a vote. He spent around $400 per vote, although I can't figure out how anyone can effectively spend that amount. Maybe he hired a lot of expensive consultants (obviously worthless). It's not believeable that he spent much on mail, because ten pieces to every plausible voter would cost only around $500,000. Washington, DC broadcast TV and radio are around $500 a point, so that would be 26,000 points if spent that way, meaning that the average person would see 260 ads, which seems even more implausible.

The spending figures aren't all in on the Florida races from Tuesday but voting base is less educated there than in Maryland and the results pretty much followed the cash. By August 10 (the last FEC report available right now) Randy Perkins, looking to replace Patrick Murphy in the Treasure Coast district (FL-18), had self-financed to the tune of $3,017,688. He had spent $2,986,581 by the 10th and I suspect he spent a lot more in the last 2 weeks. But let's say he spent $3 million flat for the 27,761 votes (60%) he took, so about $110 per vote, nothing like Trone but still incredible.

By the August 10th FEC report Patrick Murphy spent $7,770,908 to win his 663,236 primary votes, 5 times more than Alan Grayson. On top of that his father's SuperPAC spent $441,350 and the DSCC and their Senate Majority PAC spent another $1,060,760 on behalf of Murphy (after Murphy's father gave them a $1,000,000 contribution).

This kind of money in politics has got to change. This week Michael Sainato, wrote in the NY Observer reported on how the country is slipping into oligarchy. "The 2016 presidential election," he wrote, "has completed the devolution of American democracy into an oligarchy. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are historically the wealthiest presidential candidates to run against each other in a general election. While one courts the status quo of the establishment elite, the other embodies its vanity and greed. Instead of serious debates over which policies will help the people of the United States, the election is a battle over who is more corrupt, inept and scandal–ridden."
Both candidates have focused their fundraising efforts on wealthy donors as opposed to appealing to Americans who provide small contributions. Mainstream media outlets and the Clinton campaign tout endorsements from billionaires like Warren Buffett, Mark Cuban and Michael Bloomberg.

A sign of Clinton’s lead in the race has been her successful courtship of Republican establishment donors. In addition to big-money Democrats, Clinton has solicited former donors to Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, setting a fundraising goal of $1 billion that she is on pace to break.

Clinton is winning the money race, and it is covered as though it were an endearing quality of her candidacy-- not a troubling invitation for corruption and the expansion of wealthy influence in government. The lavish fundraiser galas she has held with Hollywood celebrities serve as image boosters for her campaign, while diminishing the inherent power every American has in their right to vote.

Large donations are becoming increasingly more powerful and influential in elections than voting. The celebrities and attendees to these fundraisers-- some costing $33,400 a ticket-- applaud their own participation while shutting out those who can’t afford to attend. Clinton isn’t a celebrity, nor is she running for election to be the representative of celebrities or wealthy elites; she is supposed to be running to become the top public servant in the country.

While Trump is floundering in the financial race against Clinton, he is still making money off of his presidential campaign. He allegedly used $55,000 in campaign funds to buy his own book. (Although Clinton has never done this, her State Department spent $70,000 on President Obama’s book for diplomats to stock libraries and give as Christmas gifts around the world.)

Trump also spent millions of dollars in campaign funds on his family members and companies. Though Trump has self-funded much of his campaign amid rumors he is deep in debt, win or lose, the presidential campaign will ultimately render him a profit.

“There are no limits to what a candidate can give to his or her own race, as long as it’s his or her own money,” notes the non-profit Open Secrets. “Once in office, however, most candidates never have to spend another dime of their personal fortune. In fact, many who’ve loaned money to their first campaign pay themselves back with contributions collected after they’ve won office.”

Upon securing the Republican presidential nomination, Trump went from disavowing money from SuperPACS and big money donors to embracing them. Though he hasn’t been able to do so at the same levels of Clinton, Trump carries his own conflicts of interest and dubious ties with his candidacy. Regardless of whether Trump loses-- which looks increasingly likely-- he will still be able to profit off of his presidential run as he has spent much of his career transforming the publicity he garners for himself into profit.

Clinton and Trump are each representatives of the oligarchy-- they merely reflect different dimensions of it. While Trump maintains holdings and investments in various corporations and banks around the world, both Clintons have developed strong ties with multinational corporations and oppressive dictatorships around the world through the Clinton Foundation and the lucrative speech circuit. Both Trump and the Clintons benefit from similar shell company tax shelters in Delaware. As Trump refuses to release his tax returns, Hillary Clinton refuses to release her transcripts from speeches she gave to Wall Street firms.

The 2016 presidential election is less a democratic exercise than a triumph of oligarchy in American politics. Income inequality is increasing at staggering levels, with over 75 percent of the wealth in the United States controlled by the top 10 percent of American families. The presidential elections are funded by a handful of these wealthy families, who will undoubtedly be rewarded by their preferred candidate with unfettered access, subsidies, tax breaks, and deregulation.
These are the self-funding House candidates who have spent at least a half million dollars of their own money so far this cycle:
David Trone (D-MD-08)- $13,414,225
Randy Perkins (D-FL-18)- $3,017,688
Paul Mitchell (R-MI-10)- $2,954,677
George Flinn (R-TN-08)- $2,700,000
Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN-09)- $2,582,150
Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-15)- $1,850,000
Glen Robertson (R-TX-19)- $1,636,459
Mark Freeman (R-FL-18)- $1,557,756
Martin Babinec (I-NY-22)- $1,000,000
Shawn O'Connor (I-NH-01)- $1,000,000
Angie Craig (D-MN-02)- $982,600
Mary Lawrence (D-MN-02)- $925,400
Kathleen Matthews (D-MD-08)- $640,000
Chet Beiler (R-PA-16)- $550,095
Gary Kiehne (R-AZ-01)- $534,293
Starner Jones (R-MS-01)- $502,830
Rod Blum (R-IA-01)- $500,236

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At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jimmy Carter -the only modern president since JFK to tell the American People the truth once in a while- has declared the United States to be an oligarchy. There remain no democratic processes untainted by the effects of big money. They are taking what they want with impunity, and using the votes of We the People as their camouflage. All that remains is for the final collapse of the Potemkin Republic façade, and the emergence of the corporatist dictator.


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