Commentary: The Hijacking Of Our Democracy

We are victims of a catastrophic Supreme Court decision. The McCain-Finegold law of 2002 reformed campaigns with reasonable spending limits and mandatory disclosure of donors. Then, the U.S. Supreme Court created a gigantic loophole for large-scale, anonymous election-buying by corporations, political action committees and billionaires.

Corporations are people, too. In the monumental Citizen’s United case in 2010, Justice Anthony Kennedy famously and bizarrely wrote that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” The court declared that corporations have the same rights as individual citizens.

If it’s true that corporate contributions don’t buy influence, why the hell do big businesses make such huge investments in Republicans? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the gas and oil industry, gambling interests, Big Pharma, banks and insurance companies are among the biggest GOP donors. Surely, they get something in return.

Democrats also receive outside money — from unions and issue groups, including Act Blue, a national online clearinghouse of smaller contributions that go to Democratic candidates and parties. But Act Blue acts are small; Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, one of its largest beneficiaries, received only $5,500 from the group in 2013-2014. Unlike dark money super PACs, all Act Blue contributors’ names, addresses and employers are disclosed.

Meanwhile, national parties can take up to $32,400 and state and local parties $10,000 per calendar year; those funds can be funneled to candidates without limits. ( catalogs donor sources.)

Voters are outgunned and out-shouted by anonymous corporations and wealthy kingpins. Those of us who merely vote are being crowded out of the election marketplace by secretive big spenders with deep pockets. This year the right-wing Koch brothers — who have over $100 billion in energy and other industrial holdings —  are spreading their influence in 35 states. Heavily regulated, Koch Industries will lay out “north of $120 million to ensure a Congress that will do their bidding,” wrote New York Times columnist Tim Egan last week. Bet that’s not what Justice Kennedy expected.

We’re being polled to death. If your doctor called you every week, you’d say you’re sick all the time or some of the time. Ditto for being polled all the time, often by automated services which let you punch a number or record your answers. People feel no obligation to tell the truth or give thoughtful answers to a machine.

The final Boston Globe poll published on Friday showed Baker ahead by 7 points; other independent polls all give Baker a slim but clear lead. More polls are due out in the closing days of the governor’s race.

After the Globe ran a poll last week that showed Baker with a commanding 9-point lead, the Coakley campaign and its allies in Washington, D.C., quickly released polls showing her slightly ahead.

Polls have colored perceptions of the race among what’s called in Washington “the gang of 500.” The gang in Boston is more like 250 opinion leaders in government, the news media, business, technology and academia. After the 9-point Globe poll, the local gang began to see Coakley as a loser. Again.

SuperPACs and parties have taken over campaigns and turned them into electronic mudslinging contests. Third-party outsiders raise hundreds of millions of dollars (often without disclosing the source).

National parties can get up to $32,400 and state and local parties can receive $10,000 per calendar year; those funds are funneled to candidates without limits. Baker’s attack spots are 99 percent financed by the national GOP. Coakley’s super PAC ads are bankrolled by teachers unions and the National Democratic Governor’s Association.

Super PACs target close races as they escape accountability and manipulate voter decision-making and turnout. In fact, the GOP and its allies will sponsor a blizzard of negative spots in order to suppress turnout.

Voter suppression is a deliberate GOP strategy, especially to disenfranchise or block minority voters. For example, Charlie Baker’s great friend, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, condemned as a “trick” early and weekend voting, used mostly by minorities, especially black voters.

Shifting the balance of power in the U.S Senate. A six-month investigation directed by Greg Palast for Al Jazeera found “voting officials in 27 states, almost all of them Republicans, have launched what is threatening to become a massive purge of black, Hispanic, and Asian-American voters. Already, tens of thousands have been removed from voter rolls in battleground states, and the numbers are set to climb.” This will surely have a major impact on Democrats’ chances in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

Even debates can be manipulated — by tears.  Apparently Charlie Baker’s fisherman story may be a fish tale. At Tuesday’s debate, he was asked the last time he cried. Apparently it was five years ago. On Oct. 27, 2010, his fish story appeared in a column by, of all people, Brian McGrory, now editor of The Boston Globe. The paper is putting on a full-court press to locate the New Bedford fisherman. Baker choked up as he described him as “big as a mountain,” with two sons who were outstanding high school football players whose lives he had ruined when they had to turn down athletic scholarships to work on dad’s boat. How hard can they be to find (provided the story is true)?

The Menino reprieve.  As Baker’s fish story begins to smell, he gets a reprieve in the form of a halt in campaigning out of respect for Mayor Thomas Menino. Similarly, Coakley won’t have to discuss her memory lapses in the House Speaker Sal DiMasi corruption cases. She said that as attorney general she prosecuted a DiMasi friend when he was actually convicted by federal prosecutors. She admitted she was wrong in saying she put DiMasi’s corrupt accountant in jail; he only got a fine and probation.

Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.

Headshot of Dan Payne

Dan Payne Democratic Political Analyst
Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.



More from WBUR

Listen Live