What this year’s primary election is showing so far, and what the general election will undoubtedly amplify, is that a system already corrupted by money’s influence is now virtually owned by it.
Voters are a sideshow, and not just because barely half bother to vote. The defining factor of an election isn’t the final vote, which has become the mere fulfillment of pollster prophesies. Rather, the key is the 30-second TV spot. Whichever packs the most lethal charges about a candidate, whichever saturates critical markets best, wins.
Romney’s win in Florida was not magic. It was accounting. After trailing Gingrich in South Carolina, he outspent him here -- $15.3 million to $4.3 million. He ran 3,267 ads, an astounding 99 percent of them negative. He could afford it, not because he’s the richest (and least-taxed) candidate in the race, but because he has the fattest so-called super PAC, that Orwellian creation of campaign finance law that obliterates limits on individual contributions. Ten donors gave $1 million each to his super PAC, for a third of its $30 million stash.
President Obama’s campaign isn’t a triumph of pluralism, either. It reported a haul of $40 million in the last three months of 2011 alone, with 300 individuals each raising at least $50,000.
Then there’s Gingrich, prince of the promiscuous. His rise since New Hampshire could not have happened without $10 million donated by a single man. Gingrich obsesses about Obama’s connection to Saul Alinski, the harmless community organizer who died when Obama was 10. But maybe he should tell us a little more about Sheldon Adelson, the eighth richest man in the world who happens to be under federal investigation for possibly violating -- surprise, surprise -- an anti-corruption law.
Adelson’s two major interests are casinos and Israel. He’s the reason Gingrich unleashed that slur about Palestinians being an “invented people,” a remark Adelson personally approved. Adelson’s money is the reason Gingrich remains a factor in the primary after ambling along the fringes of mercenary think tanks for the past decade and a half.
Five people, namely five justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, are responsible for the torrent of unlimited campaign contributions in this year’s election. Two years ago, in the Citizens United case, they overturned the will of hundreds of legislators and millions of citizens by removing barriers on election spending by unions, corporations and people like Adelson.
The justices remain opposed to foreign influence in American elections, for good reason. But they should have shown equal concern for the poison of disproportionate influence by anyone of means, regardless of geography. Instead, the slush fund that undermined Richard Nixon in 1952 is now every candidate’s checkered “due.”
This is no longer democracy. It’s legalized bribery on a scale even the justices could not — or for their intellectual honesty’s sake, should not — have imagined.
No wonder so many people don’t see the point in voting. While the rest of us play one man, one vote in democracy’s delusional sandbox, donors who add up to a cocktail party’s guest list are sealing the campaign’s fate.
Pierre Tristam is editor and publisher of FlaglerLive.com, a non-profit news service based in Palm Coast, Fl.
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