There’s been plenty of column space dedicated to the damage wrought by the Citizens United decision, including the unprecedented spending efforts by corporations like Target, Best Buy and McDonalds, not to mention the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Now as citizens cast their votes and as pundits prepare their various election post-mortems, it’s a good time to look at how this influx of cash has effected the overall health of our democracy.
And let me say, the prognosis is not good.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, approximately $4 billion was spent in this election cycle alone–an off-year midterm election with, compared to 2008, far fewer “marquee” match-ups. The 2006 midterms, by way of example, saw about $2.85 billion and the 2004 presidential campaigns spent approximately $4.14 billion.
It’s clear that by allowing corporations and unions the right to spend freely and anonymously, Chief Justice John Roberts and his cohorts have cast as law the idea that cash, not informed discourse, is king come election time. As a result voters have been subjected to a barrage of negative, shady election ads that skirt the truth (to put it politely), offered by such vanilla-sounding groups as the American Future Fund and The American Action Network. The result is a mean-spirited dumbing down of national political discourse that no doubt has our founding fathers and freedom fighters spinning in their graves.
Worse still, it does nothing to offer solutions or visions of leadership in a time when both are of critical imporance and apparently short demand.
We’ll have a clearer understanding just how extensive the effect and how poisonous a turn our elections have taken once we have the final tally from Tuesday. Did the majority of Americans really vote for candidates who have no interest creating jobs, protecting affordable health care choices or making sure the average American does not foot the bill for the greed and excess of Wall Street and its enablers? Did young voters who have the distinct misfortune of being born in a time when it will be nearly impossible for them to achieve a higher standard of living than their parents stay home? Did armed groups of mis-informed vigilantes successfully disenfranchise American citizens in a specific intent to block the exercise of constitutional rights? If the answer to those questions are yes, then I’m afraid our future does indeed look bleak.
There are ways outside of this maze of unlimited money and the corporatization of our democracy by the Roberts Court. There’s the DISCLOSE Act, which would require corporations to identify the candidates and causes they spend their money supporting. And there’s moving towards the public financing of elections–perhaps the last best chance for the average American to make sure that the monied elite in this country do not permanently dominate the crafting of public policy to suit their own needs.
This country has survived one Gilded Age and is struggling to come out of another, but it won’t be possible unless we get a handle on and form a solution to the unfettered cash flooding our campaigns, particularly when that cash is combined with anonymity. Democracy is all about accountability, yet our current campaign financing system encourages and promotes just the opposite. Forcing corporate campaign disclosures and moving toward a publicly financed elections system is really the only way to maintain a government of the people and by the people.
So we’ve got two years to make that happen. Let’s get to work.
photo courtesy of TheCreativePenn via Flickr