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Forum Post: News Article: Democracy for Sale

Posted 1 year ago on June 22, 2012, 5:39 p.m. EST by geo (2638) from Concord, NC
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JUNE 22, 2012 DEMOCRACY FOR SALE Posted by John Cassidy

If you’re not doing anything this weekend and you’ve got fifty thousand dollars to spare, here’s an idea: call up Mitt Romney’s campaign and ask if there are any spaces left at his retreat for G.O.P. mega-donors in Park City, Utah. Strictly speaking, the gathering at the luxurious Deer Valley resort is for Romney supporters who have already contributed to his reëlection effort. But the Romney fund-raising folks are very accommodating. A quick wire transfer, and you could be sharing a golf course or hiking trail with the likes of John Sununu, Condoleezza Rice, and Bill Kristol.

But, yikes, if you want to tee off with the really big stars of the G.O.P.—Romney himself; Tim Pawlenty, who is now the firm favorite to be his Vice-Presidential candidate; Bobby Jindal; and Paul Ryan—you’d better open your wallet a little wider. Politico’s Maggie Haberman reports there will be several classes of attendee at the retreat. A donation of fifty thousand dollars will merely get you “member” status. To become a “partner,” you’ll have to fork out a hundred thousand. And even then you’ll be in the second tier, behind the “stars” and “stripes”—Romney fund-raisers who have bundled together donations of more than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and five hundred thousand dollars respectively.

Welcome once again to the America of Citizens United!

At this stage, most of us are broadly familiar with the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision, which struck down various restrictions on campaign donations. Since that five-to-four ruling, the phrase “Super PAC” has entered the political lexicon, as have some of the Orwellian names that these opaque fund-raising groups have taken on: Restore Our Future, American Crossroads, Priorities USA Action. Still, even in a country partly inured to the corrupting influence of money on politics, the latest fund-raising antics are something to behold.

It’s not just the sight of Romney taking a weekend off the stump to socialize with his backers and their spouses—his wife, Ann, is reportedly hosting a “women’s tea”—or President Obama endlessly flying to New York or Los Angeles for fund-raisers. It’s the figures involved. According to various financial reports filed with the government earlier this week, Mitt Romney’s campaign and various G.O.P. drop boxes aligned with it raised about eighty-six million dollars in May. The Obama campaign, together with its aligned fund-raising vehicles, took in some sixty-five million dollars.

In raising more than a hundred and fifty million dollars a month, the two sides are breaking all previous records, and they are only getting started. People with the Obama campaign confidently expect Romney and his allies to raise more than a hundred million dollars in June. “We are going to be the first incumbent outspent,” one Obama official told Politico. “I think that’s clear.”

And who is giving all this money? In May, Restore Our Future, Romney’s main Super PAC, received about twenty donations of at least a hundred thousand dollars. The big givers included Warren Stephens, the Arkansas financier, Rocco Ortenzio, a medical entrepreneur from Pennsylvania, and Richard Mellon Scaife, the Pittsburgh publisher. Until recently, Priorities USA Action, Obama’s Super PAC, has had less success raising money than Romney’s operation. But last month, it received three donations of a million dollars each, from Franklin Haney, Sr., a Washington developer; Barbara Stiefel, a Florida philanthropist; and Steve Mostyn, a Texan trial lawyer.

If you managed to buttonhole the big campaign contributors, many of them would say they are simply expressing their support for candidates and principles they believe in, and that they aren’t seeking any rewards or favors in return. In some cases, this may be true. But it would take a very credulous person to believe that there isn’t an element of quid pro quo involved. Almost all wealthy businessmen have some some dealings with the government, and some interests they would like to protect.

Take managers of hedge funds, a key source of donations to candidate Obama in 2008. Since then, President Obama has signed a law that forced these unregulated investment vehicles to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission, a step many fund managers resented. He has also promised to enact the Buffett Rule, which would force many hedgies to pay a tax rate of thirty per cent instead of fifteen per cent. And lo and behold, hedge fund employees are now big backers of Romney, who isn’t committed to the Buffett Rule.

How big? According to the invaluable OpenSecrets.org, a Web site run by the Center for Responsive Politics, at least a dozen hedge funds each account for three hundred thousand dollars or more donated to Restore Our Future, and they include some of the biggest names in the industry: Paulson & Co., Tiger Management, Citadel, Renaissance Technologies, Appaloosa, and Moore Capital. Priorities USA Action, the Super PAC associated with Obama, has received some hedge-fund donations, but has struggled to raise money from the industry at large. (According to OpenSecrets, its one big source of donations from hedge funders is D. E. Shaw.)

All this, of course, is perfectly legal and aboveboard; that is the real scandal. In a better world, the Supreme Court would be looking at what it has wrought and reconsidering its 2010 decision, but there is no chance of that. The Justices have been too busy deciding whether it’s constitutional for a duly elected President and Congress to try and guarantee affordable health care to everybody in the country.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2012/06/democracy-for-sale.html#ixzz1yYoCjHwZ

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