Saturday, June 18, 2011

Citizens United kills grass-roots politics

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By Douglas Turner

The race to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Rep. Chris Lee may be the nation's best illustration of how politics has been degraded by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision last year.

Pulling the strings in the election a week from Tuesday are men whose names are not on the ballot: Karl Rove, the "architect" of President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election, Richard Armey, an ultra-right millionaire lobbyist, and House Speaker John Boehner.

The court ruling, rightly condemned by President Obama in a State of the Union message, shredded all the protections against big money corruption of elections that had been enacted over a century.

The court unleashed unlimited amounts of corporate money, largely secret, into the 2010 midterm congressional elections that led to the GOP regaining the House majority.

Conduits for the torrent of outside involvement in the 26th Congressional District race include Freedom Works, co-founded by Armey, who was also House majority leader, and American Crossroads, co-founded by Rove. The Boehner effect is described later.

The court said outfits like Freedom Works and American Crossroads could spend as much as they want on "independent" activities, which are mostly attack ads.

For example, both groups are struggling to unhorse Republican candidate Jack Davis, who created a Tea Party line to run on. Their objective is to ship Davis' Republican and populist votes to Republican Jane Corwin.

Freedom Works says Davis is not a real tea partyer. The joke is that neither is Freedom Works, which adroitly bought a ground-level populist movement and flipped it to support an old-fashioned right- wing inside-the-beltway agenda.

Freedom Works Chairman Armey is a registered lobbyist with a firm representing defense contractors, banks, liquor distillers, real estate and the pharmaceutical business. Little is known about where Freedom Works gets its cash. Common Cause says some of it came from Verizon and AT&T. Energy mogul David Koch founded one of Freedom Works' arms.

Rove's American Crossroads announced it would invest $650,000 to defeat Democratic candidate Kathy Hochul. Almost all of it must by law go for negative advertising and other tactics. Because of the court, current sources of the Rove money in the race can be forever secret. The left-wing blog Salon said a study of $2.6 million raised by Crossroads last August shows 91 percent came from energy and media billionaires. Crossroads now has a spinoff that allows it to keep the identity of donors forever shrouded.

These same oligarchs likely gave Boehner and his new GOP majority money in smaller amounts. At least Boehner behaves that way. Boehner himself is a bank. Last year, he raised $13 million and channeled it to other Republicans. His majority backs the harshest, most anti-populist agenda since the 19th century. Not only are airline safety, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and federal price supports, including dairy farm subsidies, under Boehner attack, but last week Republicans voted to cut off jobless benefits to long-term unemployed. And Boehner and key lieutenants are campaigning hard to bring Corwin here.

Today, limited additional information about the money spent by the candidates' own campaigns on New York 26 will be available. Next Sunday, the Armey and Rove groups are supposed to file "independent expenditures" reports. But the biggest spending by their shadow groups empowered by Citizens United may never be known.

The court's ruling and the new campaign spending intrigues threaten to make political parties irrelevant, turning them into paper-thin masks for selfish, anti-social interests. They may make grass-roots politics futile. Nothing can be done about this without a constitutional amendment -- unless people come out and vote in big numbers.

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