The Perfect Storm for the Destruction of the Framers’ Democracy
The framers wanted a direct relationship between the people and the representatives, but Citizens United has created an entire class – a cabal – that is coming between the people and the representative government that the founders intended, circumventing the will of the founders.
Ezra Klein, filling in for Rachel Maddow on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, tackled the issue of the teeny tiny percentage of individuals who are driving our elections – less than two thirds of the 1% of Americans — precisely, .000063%, as pointed out by The Nation. Joining him were Lawrence Lessig and Ilya Shapiro to discuss the dangers of not only Citizens United, the failure of the Disclose Act and ultimately, how the economic protection racket of Super PACs is ruining the framers’ democracy.
Transcript from MSNBC (edited for length, with modifications)
Ezra Klein: Here’s about 25% of the money contributed to federal campaigns in 2010. About a quarter of the money came from 0.01% of Americans. 1% of 1% of the country gave 25% of all the money spent in the last election cycle. As for this year’s election in what’s becoming the year of seemingly limitless spending, about 80% of the money raised by super PACs has come from 0.000 0.000063% of Americans. Four zeros after the decimal point.
Lawrence Lessig: It (Citizens United) started a cascade of decisions in the lower courts and then the FEC to change the structure of what is now called the super PAC. The super PAC has become this super weapon for gathering large contributions and deploying them in political context. Whenever you can get large contributions and don’t have to go after smaller contributions, what campaign managers recognize is that it’s more efficient to go after the bigger contributions. But that means is an ever shrinking percentage of Americans who are going to be responsible for funding campaigns and that the gap between the people and the funders only grows even greater.
Ezra Klein: So this is actually an interesting issue in what we’re talking ability on a day-to-day basis is the constitutional architecture of how we fund elections. One of the arguments you make is that it is clear in the constitution and in the history around the constitution that the framers intended the politicians, our legislatures to be dependent on the people, not to be dependent on this other class of folks called funders. So the current situation is clearly unconstitutional or clearly at odds with framers’ intent.
Naturally Ilya Shaprio of the Libertarian Cato Institute disagreed with that, but he made some great points that are worth listening to, namely that we are not seeing a huge uptick in corporate spending but rather individual spending. I’m not sure it matters where the money is coming from, when it’s dark and when whether it comes from the owner of a big corporation or the corporation itself, that money demands policies that benefit it and the other 1% of the 1%. Yesterday, Bernie Sanders revealed the 26 billionaires who are buying our elections.
Ilya says corporations are afraid to “piss off” their customers. I’d argue that we’ve seen a lot of corporate spending that only stopped when it was made public, which brings us to the Disclose Act.
The Disclose Act was supposed to keep Citizens United from corrupting the political process via transparency, but the Supreme Court may not have anticipated the Republican Party’s obstruction of transparency. Justice Kennedy wrote in Citizens United, “(W)ith the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.”
The Disclose Act was killed by Senate Republicans, the same Republicans who used the argument that money was free speech and claimed at the time that letting corporations pour money into campaigns would lead to sunlight and transparency.
Ezra’s panel talked about the implications of the Disclose Act and “the economics of a protection racket” — Super PACs encouraging politicians to court them in advance of an election in order to get their financial protection when the opponent’s PACs come swinging.
Lawrence Lessig : Evan Bahy made the point —
Ezra Klein: Former senator from Indiana.
Lawrence Lessig: He said what everybody is worried about in Indiana is that 30 days before an election, some super PAC is going to come in and drop a million dollars on the other side. What do you do to protect yourself? You need to buy some super PAC insurance. How do you buy super PAC insurance? The assurance if somebody drops a bomb against you; you have someone willing to drop an equal or larger bomb? You have to pay your premium in advance? How do you do that? You begin to behave today in a way that will encourage or cement the support you need from the super PAC on your side to back you up when it comes time for you to be supported because the attack has come from the other side.
So this is the economics of a protection racket, and the point is all of the effect is happening long before anybody spends one dollar and perfect disclosure of that effect, perfect dish closure could never begin to capture that because you could never disclose that.
What’s going on here isn’t a war of “ideology” , even though it’s framed that way. Republicans and conservatives like to frame this discussion as a matter of values, and yet their values are so lacking in principle and consistency that it’s become clear that their goal is to give corporations whatever they want. First they said transparency was the goal, and yet after they got “free speech” for corporations, they filibustered the Disclose Act. The Disclose Act would have brought transparency to both sides, so why did Republicans kill it? What are they trying to hide?
It’s disingenuous to Soros this discussion to death when Democrats are offering to show who is spending what where. Why don’t Republicans want the people to know who is spending what? Or, more to the point since Republicans are clearly giving cover to the current owners of our democracy, why don’t the 1% of the 1% want you to know what they’re spending and where?
It’s ironic to realize the Tea Party position of “you work for us!” is spouted by the very same people whose talking points give cover to a movement of corporatists masquerading as liberty seekers. Tea Party rhetoric is designed to obstruct and diffuse reality, with constant references to George Soros and unions. What is never said is that even though unions have been losing power for years, thereby making that false equivalency a distraction — that’s not the point. The real point is that George Soros gives money to the only party even remotely representing democracy right now, and the party he gives to is the party pushing for you to know exactly who gives what, which is just another example of how it matters what you’re buying, and if you’re buying secrecy.
You can see how this discussion can so easily be distracted by party and ideology when in fact, it’s not about ideology. It’s about having a government of the people or having a government run by the economic protection racket of the .000063%.
It used to be that when you went to vote, you had a choice between two parties with differing ideologies. We no longer have two viable parties with different ideologies; we suffer from a lack of honest debate. Instead we have a constant moving of the shell to hide the corporate/.000063% agenda. As Lessig pointed out, we have politicians who take positions that will get them the money they need tomorrow from Super PACs.
We’re supposed to have a choice when we vote. Choice creates competition and sparks vigorous debate about ideology. I don’t see choice anymore. I see that there is only one party that is even remotely connected to the people, and I would argue that were I to have my druthers, they’d be much more connected to the people. In other words, I’d like a choice and I imagine real fiscal conservatives (not the social movement of resentment wearing the costumes of alleged fiscal conservatives known as the Tea Party) would like a choice. I imagine small business owners would like a real choice, as would Socialist Democrats (of which there are many more than Americans realize) and liberals.
But the choice right now is to vote for people who want to keep enabling dark money of the .000063% to run/buy elections and dictate the policy direction of their candidate or vote for the people who only do that sometimes, but who still, as a body, push for a government of the people and stand by transparency to prove it.