Does Big Money Control Our Elections?

May 12, 2011

- See all 39 of my articles

Before I jump into this month’s article, I just want to talk about an interesting comment I heard on the radio the other day regarding President Obama ordering the raid which killed Osama Bin Laden.  In certain right-wing circles people are criticizing both the media and president himself;  the media for giving Obama too much credit and Obama himself for taking too much credit.  We all know about this, there are plenty of conservatives out there that will never, ever give a Democrat credit for anything.  Well, the radio commentator threw a little devil’s advocate out there – what if the raid was a failure, both helicopters crashed, a few dozen Americans got killed and Bin Laden got away, who would get the blame?  No doubt in my mind that every last Republican out there would be calling for impeachment for such a bad decision by Obama if that had happened.

One way or the other, people.  You can’t have it both ways.  “The buck stops here” also means that the person at the top gets some credit when things go right, not just gets the blame when things go wrong.

Ok, on to your regularly scheduled dose of liberal-leaning anti-corporatist hate…

I want to set up a little imaginary scenario for you.  Picture your child, in 4th grade.  I know not all of you have kids, but try to play along.  Well your child’s school is having elections for class representative to the student committee.  It’s a pretty big deal to the kids and each class ends up with two children who run off against each other election style for who gets voted representative.  Your child is one of the two, and part of their “campaign” is making some election posters to put up around the school.  You spend a lot of time helping your kid on the computer making up a few really nice posters and researching an issue or two that they can run on.  You go in to school to help your child put up the posters and watch the debate against the other candidate and the first thing you notice … the other candidate has some amazingly high-quality posters!  They’re glossy, full of color.  Clearly professionally done, and probably very expensive.  There’s a tiny disclaimer in one bottom corner of each poster:  “This poster was paid for by the 5th grade volleyball team.”

You’re stunned.  These posters are up all over the place, dozens of them.  You wonder just how something like this can happen, and make your way to your child’s classroom to watch the debate.  The debate is more or less a tie, but your school lets other kids speak on behalf of whoever they want.  Dozens of other children get up and spread blatant lies about your kid;  “I saw Chris kick a dog.”   “I saw Chris cheat on a test!”  Your child tries denounce these lies, but is told by the teacher that they had their time to speak.  Of course, after all that, your kid loses the election and doesn’t get to be class representative.

That sounds … wrong.  Far-fetched.  Un-American.  You try to argue, but you’re told that everything went according to the rules.

It’s also pretty close to what can happen here in the USA, thanks to the way elections work and 2 key rulings, one of them by the Supreme Court.

Back in January of 2010 the Supreme Court decided in “Citizens United v Federal Election Commission” that there can be no caps on the amount of corporate money spent on political advertising.  That means if Rupert Murdoch or Michael Moore wanted to go and spent millions against their obvious targets, they could.  Heck, if they had the money to blow they could spend billions, and none of it would be subject to campaign finance rules.  The only provision?  There has to be a disclaimer.  Of course, you could get the fast-talk guy from the Micro Machines commercials to read a paragraph of disclaimer in 2 seconds at the end of the commercial so the average Joe doesn’t even process it.

There was another, lesser-known court case in the Florida Court of Appeals back in 2003 that can directly affect the political atmosphere in this country.  News organizations don’t have to tell the truth.  In fact, in that case the Florida Court of Appeals said that, specifically, Fox News (and by extension all news organizations) has a first amendment right to lie.  Yup, that bastion of “fair and balanced” actually fought a case to appeals court saying they can lie if they want.  As the article says, I don’t know of any other news organization that has done this so matter-of-factly.

No combine those two things … you have a first amendment right to lie, even if you’re a news organization, and corporations can spend as much money as they want as long as there is a tiny disclaimer.  We’ve already seen something similar – remember the 2004 presidential campaign “swiftboating“?  Essentially a group of Viet Nam war vets, some who never even served with John Kerry, said he was a horrible commander, his military honors were vastly overstate, and a few even went as far as saying the Navy’s records didn’t tell the truth.  There was a lot of media attention on that, but the ads still ran.  Remember how close that election was?  The Supreme Court decided it, and literally a few thousand votes could have made John Kerry president.  What if it was a few thousand people who voted for Dubya who saw those ads but didn’t see any media coverage of how they were practically lies?  That’s right, a group of corporate funded people -most of whom barely knew John Kerry and some of whom lied- decided a US election.

It’s time we take our politics back.  Every citizen has a vote already, why do giant corporations making billions in profit and sometimes not paying back any in taxes get such a strong voice?  According to US law now the Russian megacorp Gazprom or some Dubai casino could spend a billion dollars on a series of political television commercials and not even tell the truth.  Do we really want the USA standing for corporate control over the individual voice?

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. drFaust
    May 12, 2011 @ 18:52:05

    If both choppers had of crashed and all seals died Obama would have denied any knowledge. There’s probably been some serious incidents happening in Waziristan that never got out or were denied by Washington.

    Whatever the case you can’t buy coverage like he’s gotten out of killing Bin Bag.

    As an outsider (Aussie) I hear about $$ amounts that are being pumped into Democrat and Republican coughers to run this upcoming election. I personally think it’s obscene. I know it costs a certain amount to run a campaign but both sides should be capped to a point.

    You just think that there are obviously some big money backers who will be asking for some serious favors if their money helps them into power.


  2. Zarberg
    May 12, 2011 @ 19:02:29

    “You just think that there are obviously some big money backers who will be asking for some serious favors if their money helps them into power.”

    And that’s precisely why I want big money out of politics. I want to vote on someone who’s going for the job because they want to make America better, not because they owe Exxon or some union boss a favor.


  3. kosmo
    May 13, 2011 @ 08:32:33

    I’m curious, Faust – what does Australia do limit the money poured into elections?

    I’d like to have an “opt-out” option for political commercials. Some would argue that I have the responsibility to make an informed choice. I’d counter this by saying:

    1) Biased ads do very little to aid in making an informed choice
    2) What about the people who avoid commerials, either by not watching TV or fast forwarding through them. Should we force them to consume a recommended daily allowance of political advertising?

    In reality, nearly every American can find the political information they need on the internet. Additionally, there are sources that are far less biased than the political ads. For those who feel the ads are their only way to gte information, they can choose to see the ads. For those of us who can do our own research, show us Pepsi commercials instead.

    Think this is technologically unfeasible? Trust me, give the TV networks the ability to double dip on advertising and they’ll work through any technological roadblocks.

    By the way, big money doesn’t always wins. In a recent local referendum, one side out-spent the other at least 10 to 1. Actually, I’m not aware of a single ad being run by the opposition. Nonetheless, the measure failed.


  4. zarberg
    May 13, 2011 @ 08:46:49

    Kosmo, we’re talking about you – a fairly intelligent, well informed person. You’re the exception, not the rule. Maybe America gets what it deserves because we’ve been reduced to a population where 85% of us are drooling idiots who care more about American Idol than who runs the country. We care more about paying the extra 25 cents a gallon of gas than 3000 Americans dying in Iraq. Maybe we deserve to have corporate oligarchs running the show, making every decision as a fiscal one.

    That being said, I’m gonna Godwin myself here and say that another leader about 70 years ago in central Europe made decisions based on final outcome without regard for the people, and blamed the “weakness” of his people on his downfall.

    I’ll take the pinko softy compassionate democracy over that any day.


  5. kosmo
    May 13, 2011 @ 09:17:45

    My point is this, though: do the commercials result in people having BETTER information or WORSE information. I’d say worse … I’d say that a person who does their research is best informed, followed by someone who completely ignores the commercials, with the commercial viewer probably having the least accurate information.

    I annoy my wife by pointing out really misleading commercial (on both sides). Take, for example, commercials in the state gubernatorial race. A former governor was running for the office again. He pointed out how low unemployment was, taking credit for what a great job he did as governor. His opponent pointed out how HIGH unemployment was during the former governor’s term, suggesting that he was doing a poor job. To some people, these assertions seemed to be contradictory.

    Both of them were half right. There were periods of historically high and historically low unemployment during that time period. However, this was due to the NATION having historically good and bad times, and the state going along for the ride. The governor was in office, but not a major contributing factor to either situation. Correlation does not equal causation.


  6. zarberg
    May 13, 2011 @ 09:21:25

    Your point is well taken, however, my point is this: Corporate/Union money in politics only serves those intersts, never the interests of the people or nation as a whole. Every corporate worker or union member already gets a vote, why do those entities get the added benefit of pouring as much money as they want into the political arena when the end result is almost always a gain for them at a loss for someone else?


  7. thelamest(dot)com
    May 15, 2011 @ 18:47:45

    To answer your question Kosmo, I guess we don’t do anything to cap electoral campaigns. The major difference is in the sheer size and scale of the American campaigns.

    When I hear numbers like 1 billion plus for Obama’s upcoming campaign I’m astounded. I guess you guys just do everything bigger and better then the rest of the world 🙂

    Australia like the US and most democratic nations is dominated by a 2 party political landscape. We are screwed when both a manifestly compromised by running big campaigns and bend over to beneficiaries


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