October 23, 2011

Campaign Reform: The Problem

There's been a strong link between money and politics in the United States since we started holding elections. Bill Moyers gave the keynote at Public Citizen's 40th anniversary gala. He shared sentiments from 120 years ago that are currently echoing at Occupy Wall Street with uncanny precision -

During the great prairie revolt that swept the plains a century after the Constitution was ratified, the populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease explained “Wall Street owns the country. Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. The parties lie to us, and the political speakers mislead us,” because, she said, “money rules.”

That was 1890. And those agrarian populists were boiling over with anger that the corporations, banks and government were conniving to deprive everyday people of their livelihood.
Precise echoes of this sentiment are at the heart of the Occupy Movement.

Twenty-two months ago, in the Citizens United case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations can spend as much as they want to influence elections. “The Story of Citizens United v. FEC” is an animation by Annie Leonard from The Story of Stuff. In it, she explains why elections shouldn’t be for sale to corporations.

The Citizen's United decision has unleashed a torrent of corporate political contributions. Public Citizen sends me emails every week that start off with statistics documenting the corruption that we call campaign finance. From October 29, 2010 -

  • 149: Number of independent groups that have spent money to influence this year’s elections (according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports through Oct. 25)
  • $176.1 million: Amount those groups have spent on the midterms
  • 10: Number of groups responsible for the bulk of that spending
  • 59.9 percent: The percentage of that money that comes from undisclosed sources
Here's a stunner from January 28, 2011 -
  • $5.6 million: The amount House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) received in corporate-linked donations during the 2010 midterm campaign
  • 40 percent: The increase in corporate donations Cantor received between 2008 and 2010
  • $1.2 million: The amount Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), the new head of the financial services committee, received from banking interests in the midterms. Bachus wants to undo financial reform.
  • $400,000: The amount Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), new chair of the energy and commerce committee, took from energy and mining industries
  • 50 percent: The increase in donations to Upton from energy and mining interests between 2008 and 2010
From 8/29/2011, the congressional super committe is already bought and paid for -
  • 12: The number of lawmakers that make up the bipartisan “super committee” created under the debt ceiling deal
  • $64.6 million: The amount that super committee members received in campaign contributions from special interests over the past decade
  • More than 100: Number of staffers for super committee members who have moved on to lobbying shops
The Center for Responsive Politics website provides a wealth of such statistics.

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