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A Silver Lining in the Fund-Raising Cloud?

October 18th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

One of the main reasons the system in Washington is so broken is that candidates from both parties are bought by major financial interests, so even when democrats push for reform they don’t push too hard because they don’t want to lose that campaign funding. Giant corporations usually favor republicans, but they pour money into both sides in order to cover their bases. The last thing they’d want is to have an entire political party not beholden to them.

And yet with the recent Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case allowing corporations to anonymously spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign ads, the game might actually be changing. Republican candidates are out-raising their Democratic opponents by incredibly wide margins this year, thanks almost exclusively to large donations filtered through groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or Karl Rove’s American Crossroads. It seems that the powerful interests are banking not only on a republican takeover but possibly a permanent republican majority. If they only have to buy one party, and the Citizens United decision allows them to pour as much money into that party as they like, why bother covering their bases? Just make sure democrats stop winning elections.

I hope this is their strategy, because I believe it smacks of blind hubris and overconfidence. If they stop buying Democratic candidates, then perhaps Democratic candidates will stop working for them. Why water-down reform if you’re not going to be rewarded financially for doing so? If private industry wants to make an enemy of you, why not make an enemy of them and actually stand up and fight them?

Imagine if Barack Obama had been told before the health care debate that neither he nor a single democrat would receive one penny in campaign donations from private health insurance companies. There would have been no reason for them not to push as hard as possible for a public option, because the only people opposed to it (other than the hordes of grossly misinformed right-wingers) were private insurance companies. Imagine if they’d been told that no money from Wall Street would go to fund Democratic campaigns. There would have been no reason to water-down financial reform to the point of impotence the way they did.

This has the potential to bring about a major sea-change in American politics whereby we have two distinct parties—one of Big Industry and the other of the Little Guy—rather than what we have now which is one party of Big Industry and the other of Big Industry and maybe some unions.

Of course with the economy the way it is, we may already be past the point where a party of the Little Guy can have any power anyway. With such a gross disparity of wealth, we may already be at the point where even millions of small donors wouldn’t be able to match the funds of just a handful of big ones. And as long as they can keep half of the regular people convinced that what’s good for Big Business is good for them (as Fox News does for the Tea Party), they might have free reign to really run the country like the plutocracy they’ve been morphing it into for decades.

That’s probably what they’re counting on. Here’s hoping they’re wrong.

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