Like a multitude of us, I’ve been worrying about this since Citizens United. But as I worked on How I Learned The Facts of Life, I picked up enough solid info so that I found myself backing away from what I view as responsible paranoia on the subject.
“Responsible,” meaning smart, good people are highly anxious about it. “Paranoia,” because I haven’t really found the doomy predictions to be borne out.
Yeah, I saw the application of Big Dark Money when Neil Gorsuch was, um, running for the Supreme Court. Of course, he wasn’t “running;” he’d be nominated by Trump, but Big Dark Money, predominantly I think the Koch Machine, contributed to glossy, polished political campaign-style TV ads on behalf of Gorsuch.
At the time, I was appalled, primarily because the Koch Neu Wannsee Conference to End Democracy in America had come out of the neo-Nazi closet to buy and run these ads.
But who were they buying? Who was the target of those ads? Not me. I didn’t have a vote on Gorsuch’s nomination. I’m not a US Senator.
There were some hoped-for swing votes in the Senate — three Democrats and two Republicans, the endlessly hapless Susan Collins and the endlessly wavering Lisa Murkowski. Those five would have damned Gorsuch’s elevation to the Court.
They all went for him.
So maybe that’s where the Big Dark Money went, into their campaign war chests or into off-shore accounts, but I don’t know precisely how these things are worked so I can only suspect (and wish I had some personal friends who were hackers).
Two of the three swing Gorsuch Democrats — except, of course, Joe Manchin, from fossil-fuel-rich-but-otherwise-desperately-poor West Virginia — lost their elections.
So the question again has to be asked: can Big Dark Money actually buy elections in which We The People vote?
I watched some of the recent primaries coverage. One primary I paid some attention to was the LA mayoral one, because during the Trump impeachment trials, I’d become familiar with Karen Bass and think highly of her. She is running against a very rich businessman man (BIg, if not entirely Dark Money) and before I turned my TV to, most likely, a Foyle’s War rerun, she was some points down in the voter count.
I was disappointed and pretty pissed off. The guy she’s running against is one of those Big Balls real estate businessmen with no governmental experience. Exactly the kind of person I warn everybody never to vote for.
So I was glad to read what follows in The American Prospect:
On the day after the election in Los Angeles, [Rick] Caruso had 42.12 percent of the vote, with Karen Bass in second with 36.95 percent. As of Thursday morning, those numbers had flipped: Bass now has 41.05 percent, and Caruso has 38.29 percent. With plenty left to count, on the current trajectory Caruso could scrape 35 percent.
This is a terrible result for Caruso, given the $40 million he plowed into the race. He outspent Bass by more than 12 to 1, in a race where the powerful local labor groups quietly endorsed third-place finisher Kevin de León (a former labor organizer with the state teachers union) and spent next to nothing. For Caruso, a ubiquitous presence on TV and in mailboxes in the months leading up to the election, to not break 40 percent in a fragmented field shows a broad rejection of his crime and homelessness message.
All right, then. Seems that Big Money can’t buy actual elections. Because it can’t buy voters themselves. It can buy people running for office, with the implicit or even explicit directive (these awful people have no subtlety whatsoever), “When you win, you’ll vote the way we tell you to vote.”
But first they have to win people’s votes. And Big Dark Money, despite all our fear and loathing, does not possess the power to buy their candidates those wins.