Saturday, September 08, 2012

How do we know our political process has not already been cooped by criminal money?

The only thing I can surmise from the way things are going is that the Republican Party has been taken over by a few -- probably not even very many -- super rich individuals and corporations.  It looks like they already have a powerful grip on our political process.  

The scary part is that so many super PACs that now try to shape the public imagination are funded by unknown sources.  I can appreciate why certain rich individuals would like to remain anonymous when making donations.  But when huge amounts of money are being paid for scandalous, scurrilous, and slanderous advertisements against public figures it looks like money from secret, perhaps even criminal, sources is threatening the whole political process.  

How much democracy has been lost because of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision?  It looks like we are about to find out.  I fear this is the most dangerous election in the history of democracy.  

How do we know that the real sources of these scandalous declarations on TV are not funded by criminal wealth?  Most of us suppose that criminality is weak and marginal in our country.  I doubt it:  Al Capone is still around, in other guises.  A few years ago illicit drugs were believed to be the third largest industry in this country -- industry, not corporation; it was believed only exceeded by the oil industry and the automobile industry.   Moise Naim who has studied criminal behavior for more than ten years, has written a book, Illicit, in which he claims that “networks of stateless traders are changing the world as much as terrorists are, probably more.”  How do we know that these moneys being used for public calumny don't come from foreign sources?  Even non-American criminal sources?  Citizens United stripped the democratic process in this country from the ordinary people and opened it up to whoever has the hard cash to control our electoral process:  from any source, from any country, from any industry.  And the more money the better.  Today the American people have no means of knowing who  controls the political discourse of our country.

Virtually every day we hear about exorbitant amounts from unknown and unknowable sources of funds being spent on negative advertising.  Here is the one I read today:  Thank you ProPublica (in particular Justin Elliott).  If this article doesn't make your hair stand on end you are already inured to scandalous claims on TV.
Revealed: The Dark Money Group Attacking Sen. Sherrod Brownby Justin Elliott  ProPublica, Sept. 7, 2012, 11:12 a.m. 
In May, a previously unknown group started pouring money into Ohio’s U.S. Senate race, considered one of the most important in the country and currently the nation’s most expensive.  The group, the Government Integrity Fund, has spent over $1 million so far on TV ads bashing Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown and praising his Republican opponent, Josh Mandel.
..., the Government Integrity Fund is shrouded in mystery. It isn’t required to reveal donors, nor has it answered questions about who runs the group. The Fund’s barebones website lists no contact information beyond a P.O. Box.
The only name listed on incorporation papers for the group is a Columbus lawyer, William Todd, who told ProPublica, “I really have no role in their affairs.” (In June, Todd also declined to respond to questions from a Huffington Post reporter, citing attorney-client privilege.)
But previously unreported documents filed with an Ohio television station pull back the curtain a bit: the Government Integrity Fund is run by a state lobbyist who in turn employs a former top Mandel staffer.
The lobbyist, Tom Norris, is listed as the Government Integrity Fund’s chairman and treasurer. Norris owns an Ohio lobbying firm, Cap Square Solutions, and last year hired a top Mandel aide, Joel Riter, to work at the firm.
.... The former Mandel aide declined to say whether he is involved with the group that is chaired by his current boss and running ads in support of his former boss... [Read the rest on the original site, linked above.]
I began this note with a swipe at the Republican Party because that party seems to have become shamelessly committed to protecting the rich against the poor, against even the middle class.  This is not the Republican Part I knew as a child.  I grew up in a Republican environment.  I always thought I was Republican or Republican-leaning (at least until Reagan).  I can scarcely believe any of my family today would want to be associated with what the party now stands for:  Protecting the super rich from paying even the slightest premium for the benefits they have enjoyed in a country that provides unexcelled protection from theft and arson, and an infrastructure that enables reasonable and responsible business activity to prosper.  This is not the party of Eisenhour, Taft, Reagan, Ford, or GHW Bush.  To me the marvel is that they are unashamed for what they have been defending:  No shame for the economic wreckage they left the country in in 2008 -- and now no shame for blaming their successor for it.  

How do we know that in fact the super-rich interests of the world -- who have no national loyalty -- have not already seized the Republican Party to make use of it in their interest?  There are legitimate interests for the Republicans to represent responsibly, but the positions they now hold are an embarrassment.  

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