By Arlen Grossman/ The Big Picture Report
The ease with which Harry Reid capitulated to Mitch McConnell on filibuster reform has me worried about a lot of things concerning the Democratic Party, in particular the elections in 2014 and beyond.
Our nation’s method of electing candidates is seriously flawed, what with the antiquated electoral college system, GOP voter purging, voting rule manipulation, gerrymandering, private voting machines without paper trails, freewheeling campaign financing, and other tricks which make the prospect of electing progressive Democrats somewhat akin to running through a minefield of Diebold voting machines. In no way can the Democratic Party afford to passively sit back when it comes to fair and democratic elections.
Of immediate concern to me is the cost of getting elected, which was made considerably worse by the horrendous Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court in 2010 that essentially took away any restrictions on campaign funding, without even ensuring (at the very least) full disclosure.
There was buzz about it last year, but of late the subject has taken a back seat to other Republican election trickery. Another complicating factor is that despite the influx of billions of dollars into the election campaign last year, the strategy mostly failed. President Obama managed to achieve a decisive victory, and much of the billionaire-funded right-wing Super PAC money seemed to have gone to waste. Thanks to Obama and the Democrats’ victories, there is more complacency among Democrats on this issue, so that election finance reform is seen as less urgent than more recent GOP tricks and manipulation.
Democrats will ignore campaign finance at their own peril. I believe 2012 was an anomaly. We can’t count on a strong Democratic incumbent/weak Republican opponent scenario in upcoming elections. The Obama campaign team had an extraordinary organization, which built on its successes in 2008 and wasn’t afraid to go hat in hand to big corporations and other wealthy contributors. With good reason, as those with the largest campaign chest have historically done better than underfunded opponents. As well as Democrats in Congress succeeded in this past election cycle, there is no way of knowing how much better they should and would have done without the heavy influx of corporate cash available to their GOP opponents.
President Obama failed to mention campaign finance reform in his 2013 State of the Union address, the first of these in which he failed to mention anything about the influence of big money or lobbyists in our political system.
His omission disappointed campaign finance reformers like Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, who said that the president has completely abandoned this important issue. “They have pretty much walked away from, certainly, the campaign finance issue,” Wertheimer said. “They’ve given no indications that they’re going to help deal with, without question, what is a fundamental problem for the country.”
Campaign finance reformers remember Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address, delivered just days after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said in 2010. (That was when Justice Alito could be seen shaking his head and mouthing “not true.”)
Obama went on to say: “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.”
Now that the president no longer faces re-election, the issue seems to have faded among his priorities. But for Democrats and all Americans it should be a top concern. There are a number of groups working on amending the Constitution to limit the role of money in politics and elections (e.g. Move to Amend). If the American people don’t get behind these efforts in a major way, we will continue to be stuck with wealthy Americans and corporations calling the shots when it comes to governing this nation. It is a warped system that has dragged America down economically, politically and morally, and cries out for a serious fix.
Right now we have government of the wealthy, by the wealthy and for the wealthy. The best way to repair this broken political system is to extricate the mammoth influence of big money from the political process. If Democrats fail to do so, this nation will remain on the fast path to plutocracy, drifting farther away from what we once recognized as democracy.