Friday, July 17, 2015

Eating at the Palm

The Federal Election Commission has tabulated what I will call the Citizens United funding summaries based on required reports filed as of June 30th. That special interests and a mega-wealthy elite call most of the shots is no surprise. But the sheer numbers reflect the rather total disenfranchisement of the voice of the average voter.
The FEC report was released on July 14th, and here are a couple of highlights, according to the July 15th Washington Post: “A small cadre of super-wealthy Americans is dominating the fundraising for the 2016 Republican presidential nominating contest, doling out huge sums to independent groups that overwhelm total contributions to the candidates… Nearly $4 out of every $5 raised so far on behalf of GOP White House contenders has gone to independent groups rather than the official campaigns.
“Outside groups have already amassed more than $235 million — more than three times the $67 million raised collectively by the Republican field through June 30, according to reports filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission.
“So far, the dynamic is different on the Democratic side, with 80 percent of the more than $80 million raised so far to support Hillary Rodham Clinton and her competitors flowing to their campaigns… Clinton boasted the biggest campaign haul of any candidate, $47 million, driven by a largely female donor base. Contributions less than $200 made up nearly 17 percent of her total. That was in sharp contrast with Republican Jeb Bush: Just 3 percent of the $11.4 million he raised came from such low-dollar donations.”
With almost double the campaign funding raised by any other candidate (including Clinton), the leader in the campaign money race is far and away Jeb Bush, but his numbers reflect the above special interest (“independent groups”) skew. Out of $119.4 million behind Bush, only $11.4 million were contributions directly to his campaign. Clinton’s numbers show $62.7 million behind her, but the bulk of her contributions - $47.4 million – were directly into her campaign, with $15.6 million coming from those “independent groups.”
The next two highest campaign chests, belonging to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, are well under half of Jeb Bush’s total, but three times the levels raised by the number two Democrat, Bernie Sanders. Oh, while Sanders reflects 100% going into his campaign ($10.5 million of his $15.1 million coming from donations of $200 or less), both Cruz and Rubio have most of their money from these “independent groups.” Note that these “independent groups” are basically SuperPacs, some with identified business billionaires behind them while others – so-called “dark” money – from contributors who wish to remain anonymous. Read: special interests. While the Dems have their liberal well-heeled donors as well (plus organized labor), the contributions from Democratically-oriented donors pales in comparison to the Republic ledger, which is mostly money from business elites. Donald Trump is pretty much self-financed so far.
As billionaires with SuperPac money hold court, candidates flock for their share of the trough slop. Vegas player Sheldon Adelson found Marco Rubio to his liking when the Senator embraced anti-online gaming restrictions favored by Adelson. The Kansas based Koch brothers, heavily invested in natural resource extractions (e.g., paper, oil, gas, etc.), have held their gatherings for GOP tryouts as well. Money from these special interests goes to candidates who are willing to take on the underlying agendas from these contributors as their own.
Simply put, the post Citizens United landscape has created an entirely new political system, a plutocracy if you will, which has added another layer of extreme polarization – clearly favoring the moneyed elites over everyone else – at a time when income inequality is the biggest domestic issue on the table right now. And if you truly believe that “it’s the economy stupid” as the dominant feature of any election, the fact that tax and regulatory legislation and judicial rulings tilt the playing field increasingly towards these elites, as the middle class contracts downwards, would make you think that the electorate will reject this continued bias.
Ah, but that is where massive ad spends to push elite agendas as part of our “American values” plus embracing social issues – from immigration to abortion to available healthcare to same-sex marriage – pushes too many voters to make choices that clearly go against their most basic economic interests. Find a good scapegoat during harsh economic times, publicize ($$) your mythology, and watch your poll numbers rise… at least for a while. In effect, the next election is a contest between those who want to continue this polarization – and are willing to make a few concessions to social conservatives to get this result – against those who rail against this polarization and elitism and want our middle class to grow.
So how is the GOP field faring under this rain of cash? “The latest poll from Fox News puts Donald Trump at the top of the Republican field, with 18 percent. Scott Walker is in second at 15 percent, and Jeb Bush is third at 14 percent. No one else reaches double-digits in the national survey: Rand Paul, 8%; Marco Rubio, 7%; Ben Carson, 6%; Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, 4%; Chris Christie, 3%; John Kasich and Rick Santorum, 2%; Carly Fiorina, Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal and George Pataki each received one percent or less. Remember: the top 10, as decided by Fox, get into the first debate next month. Yesterday, Univision released its own poll showing that 7 in 10 Hispanic registered voters have an unfavorable impression of Trump.” Washington Post, July 17th. Per patterns from past campaigns, note that newly-declared candidates usually have an initial boost when the publicity of their announcements
That we have a contracting middle class while countries like China and Mexico have extreme growth in this middle economic segment should be a wake-up call to all Americans at every stage of the economic ladder. Rich folks surrounded by a whole lot of people with sinking hopes and dropping standards of living is not only bad for business, at some point, it gets downright dangerous. Polarization is bad for us all.
I’m Peter Dekom, and even as the global turmoil serves as a major distraction from many of our issues here at home, unless we address these anomalies soon, we won’t have much left to defend.

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