The Center for Responsive Politics was looking through some Tea Party Express disclosure forms when they found a supernatural event that was more fit for Ghost Hunters than campaign finance experts. In 2009 and 20100, a woman by the name of Joan Snyder Holmes made four donations to the Tea Party Express PAC Our Country Deserves Better. The problem is that Mrs. Holmes died of cancer in 2007.
According to the Open Secrets Blog, Mrs. Holmes who never made a political donation in life has become quite the active donor to the Tea Party Express PAC from the great beyond. Her still very much alive and heavily active super Tea Party Express donor husband Lee Holmes denies making the contributions in wife’s name, but there is something fishy here. One political donation in the name of deceased person could be an accounting error, or mistake, but four donations in two years certainly looks like a pattern of fraud that is being carried out to skirt campaign finance laws.
If the donation turns out to have come from a person who was ineligible to contribute, the money must be returned within 30 days. Of course the problem is that the questionable donations have already done their damage to the 2010 midterm elections, which is why candidates and PACs worry very little about illegal contributions. The results of the election can’t be changed, and the fines are little more than a slap on the wrist. In rare cases the FEC does allow the deceased to donate through what is called memorial donations, but these have to be approved and the donations in the name of Mrs. Holmes weren’t.
What this incident does expose is the shady underbelly of cold hard cash from special interests that fuels our system of elections. For every one donation that is caught, many more illegal ones slip through and influence our elections. If the researchers at Open Secrets had not discovered the donations of Joan Snyder Holmes, it could have been years before the fraud was detected, and in a nutshell that is the biggest problem with the entire method in which we fund and regulate our elections.
Our system of funding elections has warped our democracy to the point where in theory a deceased woman was able to buy more access to our democratic process than millions of her former fellow citizens ever could. If this condition doesn’t strike you as troubling than you are either a). a large corporation, b). a political candidate, or c). a PAC, 527, special interest group, or a lobbyist. The reality is that our democracy has been corrupted by how we finance elections. Sure Americans still get to cast their ballots, but the very options that voters are given to choose from on Election Day have been promoted/attacked, funded, and defined by special interest money.
The Supreme Court has long been the main obstacle standing in the way of getting the special interest money out of US elections, and the current conservative tipping court is poised to empower special interest money at the expense of the rest of us for years to come. Citizen’s United was just the beginning. Even dead people with money now have more influence over our democracy than the living. From the special interests that govern our elections, to the candidates and the high court that set the rules everyone seems just fine with that. The losers here are not only the average Americans that groups like the Tea Party Express hide behind and claim to be representing, but also every person who sees the value of their vote demeaned by a system where dollars mean more than ballots.