Robber barons buy our government

From the August 27, 2012 New Yorker piece, “Schmooze or Lose,” by Jane Mayer:

It’s not easy for Obama to play the current money game, since he has repeatedly called it an unethical contest. He reserved some of the harshest words of his Presidency for the Citizens United ruling, saying that he couldn’t “think of anything more devastating to the public interest.” Indeed, advocates of campaign-finance reform think that it’s perverse to fault Obama for being insufficiently solicitous of billionaires. Meredith McGehee, the policy direct of the Campaign Legal Center, says, “The whole question of whether the President’s donors are happy just boils down to how corrupting this whole system is. That the President, with all the other things on his plate, has to worry about keeping high rollers happy is just sad.” She adds, “We’re heading toward plutocracy, pretty clearly.”

David Axelrod, the senior strategist of Obama’s 2012 campaign, warns that the Citizens United decision may have permanently tilted the playing field away from not just Obama but all future Democratic candidates. “The Supreme Court is saying that campaign spending is a matter of free speech, but it has set up a situation where the more money you have the more speech you can buy … That’s a threatening concept for democracy … If your party serves the powerful and well-funded interests and there’s no limit to what you can spend, you have a permanent, structural advantage. We’re averaging fifty-dollar checks in our campaign, and trying to ward off those seven- or even eight-figure checks on the other side. That disparity is pretty striking, and so are the implications. In many ways, we’re back in the Gilded Age. We have robber barons buying the government.”

“It’s really sad,” [Arnold] Hiatt [a consistent liberal donor] says. “You could buy this election for a billion dollars.”

A permanent government successfully purchased by huge-money Republican industrialists means no responsible future legislation to reform campaign financing, no legislative mitigation of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. And, of course, it means the next Supreme Court nominees will be even more partisan and anti-democratic.

And, as Mayer’s piece chillingly points out, billionaire Republican buyer, Sheldon Adelson, is “currently the focus of two Justice Department investigations … The future leadership of the Justice Department and the S.E.C., then, is of enormous material interest to Adelson.”

If Romney becomes president, Adelson’s money will have succeeded in buying him complete freedom from government investigation. He can be a criminal with impunity.

The state governments of Wisconsin and Ohio, among others, have already been bought by rich Republicans. So what have they done with their purchases? Aside from squashing civil servants, they are legislating the suppression of voting rights. They have legislated plutocracy in the states they own.

I am an inveterate optimist but not about this, not about a small number of obscenely wealthy people owning our supposedly democratic, one-citizen-one-vote government.

The only shred of hope I can yank out of this horrid mess is that a majority of my fellow citizens will perceive and rebel against this massive effort to buy their minds and their votes.

But as Thomas Frank noted sharply in his book, What’s the Matter With Kansas?, big money can apparently brainwash people to vote against their own best interests. I have a vision of election day, with endless queues of zombie voters.

I’m not pessimistic. I am scared.

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