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Jim Hightower
Jim Hightower
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Super PACs and Secret Money Destroying America's Democracy


Leave it to Bill Moyers, one of America's most useful citizens, to sum up our country's present political plight in a succinct metaphor: "Our elections have replaced horse racing as the sport of kings. These kings are multibillionaire corporate moguls who by divine right — not of God, but (of the Supreme Court's) Citizens United decision — are now buying politicians like so much pricey horseflesh."

Pricey, indeed. In its disgraceful, democracy-crushing judicial edict of January 2010, the Court took the big advantage that America's corporate elite already had in politics — and super-sized it. This is the first presidential election to be run under the rigged rules invented by the Court's five-man corporatist majority, and we can see the effects of this ruling.

For instance, we saw in this year's Republican nominating contests that a new, supremely authorized critter not only arose, but instantly became the dominant force in the game, allowing a handful of extremely wealthy players to shove their selfish agenda ahead of all other interests in the election process: super PACs!

These are secretive money funnels that various political partisans have set up to take advantage of the court's implausible finding that the Constitution allows corporations and super-rich individuals to put unlimited sums of money into "independent" campaigns to elect or defeat whomever they choose. (I should note that the justices' ruling was a model of fairness in that it also allows poor people to put unlimited amounts of their money into super PACs.)

These new entities amassed and spent vastly more than the campaigns of the actual candidates. Nearly all of this super PAC cash was used to flood the airwaves with biblical levels of nauseatingly negative attack ads, further debasing our nation's democratic process. Thanks for that, Supremes.

The Court's surreal rationale for allowing this special-interest distortion of elections was that super PACs would be entirely independent from the candidates they back. In his Citizens United opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy blithely wrote, "We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption."

Wow, if ignorance is bliss, he must be ecstatic!

Of course, these justices knew what they were doing: enthroning the wealthiest Americans, not merely to reign supreme over the political process, but also to control government.

In a nation of 313 million people and an electorate of 217 million, fewer than a hundred uber-wealthy individuals and corporations (a tiny fraction of a fraction of even the 1 percent) shaped the GOP presidential debate and nomination to their personal benefit.

While the conventional media dwelled on such sideshows as the snarling nastiness among some of the candidates and whether or not Romney could get any love from the GOP's hard-right, Bible-pounding, social-issues faction, the million-dollar-plus givers to the super PACs were having one-on-one conversations with each candidate "in quiet rooms" (as Mitt Romney so-genteelly put it).

Super PACs are only Wave One of the financial tsunami sweeping over America's politics this year. Wave Two, also authorized by Citizens United, will be even larger, for it allows Fortune 500 giants to siphon as much money as they want directly out of their corporate vaults and pour it into campaigns — while keeping the sources of the money secret from voters.

These totally secret corporate political funds are laundered through outfits organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code as (WARNING: The following fact is so stupefying that it can cause temporary insanity in sensible people) nonprofit "social welfare organizations" engaged in charitable work! Never mind that the welfare of the plutocracy is the cause being served by this perverse philanthropy.

At present, the largest of these is Crossroads GPS, created by the noted political altruist and GOP hatchet man Karl Rove. It alone expects to raise $240 million from undisclosed corporate interests and spend nearly all of it on venomous attack ads to defeat Barack Obama this fall. You'd need more than a GPS to find all the sources of Crossroads' cash, but it's known that nearly 90 percent of the $77 million it raised in the last six months of 2011 came from a couple dozen donors chipping in from $1 million to $10 million each.

The unlimited special-interest money gush into American politics dethrones democratic rule, corrupts government, increases both wealth disparity and social injustice, and destroys essential public trust in our society's commitment to fairness.

Super PACs are but one of the pipelines allowing corporate money to drown America's historic ideal of egalitarian self-government. The secret (c)(4) corporate "charities," the corporate "bundlers" who collect billions for the candidates' campaigns, the myriad fundraising committees run by both political parties, the sham "foundations" that permit corporate favor-seekers to make tax-deductible donations to elected officials — these and all other channels of private purchase must be capped if America is ever to have a government of, by and for the people.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at



5 Comments | Post Comment
Re: "...These totally secret corporate political funds..."
If they are secret how do you know about them?
Re: "...its disgraceful, democracy-crushing judicial edict ..." This was the decision that Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.
Super PACS and Unions are the biggets supporters of democrats but, Jim only bashes Republicans.
Obama endorses Super PACS but Jim ignores that because it's democrats.
Re: "America's democracy" (in the title)
The United States is a Constitutional Republic, not a democracy. How does Jim get to be a journalist, writing about government, without knowing the basics of government?
All in all, this rant by a communist sympathizer is nothing but 4-year-old-brat-whining and not qualified to be classed as journalism.
Comment: #1
Posted by: David Henricks
Thu Jun 21, 2012 4:11 AM
The money is not so secret. When Crossroads GPS, or a democratic group, spends many millions buying ad space, the money part is obvious. The secret part is in the "who" of who is spending millions. The who could even be foreign corporations, individuals, or governments. We only have the group's word for it that this is not the case. Even when the candidate of your choice is the beneficiary of this money, that candidate is less beholden to the average citizen and much more beholden to the donors to the super PAC that backed him. Or, as Molly Ivins so succinctly put it: You got to dance with them what brung you. (Notice, for example, that neither Medicare part D prescription drug coverage (Bush administration) or Obamacare use the buying power of the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices from the pharmaceutical companies.)
Some questions came to mind when I read your comment: Do you really think that the Citizens United decision was good for our republic? Would you still back it if it looked like the result of this unlimited money would be a sweep of the elections by candidates that you dislike? If not, what limits on corporate / union donations would you support? Was the silly ad-hominid bit at the end an admission that a known leftie like Jim may be talking about real problems?
Comment: #2
Posted by: Mark
Sun Jun 24, 2012 10:50 PM
Re: Mark I think that Presidential candidates should spend their own money to ride trains across the nation and give speeches from the back of boxcars. Yes, I really think that the Citizens United decision was good for our republic.
Obama was swept in by union money and a fawning media hiding the real Obama who's policies I detest.
The "ad hominem" attack as you put it, is true and in no way indicates that Jim knows what he is talking about.
Comment: #3
Posted by: David Henricks
Mon Jun 25, 2012 3:07 PM
Even the part where you don't get to know where the money comes from? If your preferred candidate is elected, how will you know if decisions, which appear to favor some particular corporate or foreign entity, are not payback for their secret pac money? What if Obama is reelected? Would you not like to know who put him there so you watch what he does with that information in mind? How will you spot the corrupting effect of the money if you don'e know the source? Doesn't the secret part bother you, even a little bit? I can understand your support of the idea of unlimited corporate money being allowed, as it is more likely to favor your preferred brand of candidate, but the support for citizens united leaves me stunned. Sunshine is the best disinfectant and this decision is about as far from sunshine as one can possibly get. Whichever candidate wins, brace yourself for a lot of stench in the next four years.
PS Jim Hightower, according to google, was born in 1943 which makes him a bit older than four. I haven't noticed any commie tenancies in what I have read of his writings over the last 10 years. That leaves us with an opinion as to whether his writings constitute journalism. I have a higher standard for the word "true".
Comment: #4
Posted by: Mark
Mon Jun 25, 2012 7:14 PM
Re: Mark

"If your preferred candidate is elected, how will you know if decisions, which appear to favor some particular corporate or foreign entity, are not payback for their secret pac money? What if Obama is reelected? Would you not like to know who put him there so you watch what he does with that information in mind? How will you spot the corrupting effect of the money if you don'e know the source?"

We don't know the source of a large part of the money that put Obama in office the first time, long before this decision, since his campaign chose to ignore the existing laws about foreign contributions. Since the FEC is controlled by Democrat appointees, they knew there would be no consequences.

I realize that the possibility that Republicans might have a chance to somewhat level the playing field scares you, but you'll just have to deal with it. Democrats already have the largest PR firm ever created working on their behalf for free, after all.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Jeff Gunn
Sat Jun 30, 2012 11:48 PM
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