The landmark Citizens United case has resulted in a surge
of spending by special interest groups, most of them favoring Republican candidates,
according to an analysis by The Washington Post. Other secretive cash funds include
Americans for Job Security ($7.5 million spent so far), and American Crossroads
($5.6 million), which lists as an “advisor” GOP strategist Karl Rove.
In all, The Post determined these murky groups have spent $80 million in the
current midterm cycle.
Of course, Democrats
do it too, just not as effectively. Seems there are more deep-pocketed corporations
and wealthy individuals wishing to anonymously back Republican causes than on
the Democratic side. That’s not surprising considering
that those with the biggest bankrolls are those who stand to benefit most from
conservative positions - such as renewing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
President Obama has been critical of the Supreme Court ruling that made this
all possible, but has twice failed to win enough votes in the Senate to create
new laws that would force corporations to be more transparent about political
In the absence of legislation, the New York City Public Advocate, Bill de
Blasio, announced this month a coalition to secure voluntary disclosures from
corporations about election financing. The group has already persuaded Goldman
Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley to adopt policies forbidding expenditures
from their general treasuries on campaigns; however, the firms can still run
political action committees, which are operated independently.
Although better than nothing, winning voluntary commitments by a limited number
of corporate players doesn’t meaningfully address the problem.
The American Future Fund is using its undisclosed corporate backing to purchase
ads in key battleground areas this fall, in which the facts are fudged as much
as the funding. Under federal election law, the organization is prohibited from
engaging solely in “express advocacy,” which would include asking
voters to vote for or against a certain candidate. But ads by the American Future
Fund deal with issues - from gay rights to building the Islamic community center
in lower Manhattan - and fiddle with facts, much as the Swift Boat attack ads
did in distorting the military record of Sen. John Kerry. The same media consultants
who bashed Kerry are behind the Future Fund.
Money already plays far too great a role in American politics. When corporations
hide in shadows cast by nonprofit political attack groups, the problem reaches
a level that, to be kind, the Supreme Court must have overlooked in its 5-4 decision
regarding Citizens United.
In an era when the public understandably seeks accountability in government,
loopholes provided by the court and the Congress have fostered deniability in
campaigns. Candidates deny involvement with ads and their content, corporations
deny making contributions to buy the ads - and mysterious nonprofits deny links
to both the candidates and the corporations.
It’s a scene that even the “Seinfeld” writers would have
rejected as too far-fetched to be funny.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.