Thursday, June 07, 2012

Prophetic words

BuzzFeed, which posted this video to YouTube, describes the subject as “A blue-collar voter took the news of Scott Walker's victory a bit too hard.” Yes, perhaps that’s all it is. Or, are his words prophetic?

The infamous Citizens United Supreme Court ruling allows corporations to spend unlimited money to buy election campaigns. Technically, it also allows labour unions to do so, too—so naturally the rightwing needed to destroy labour unions, which is what they set out to do after the 2010 elections, and why saving Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker was so important.

Out on the Internet, rightwingers claimed that “labour unions”, which they usually describe as being “out of state”, spent “$60 million” in Wisconsin. After trying to find the source for that claim, I think it’s simply a lack of reading comprehension among conservatives—I’m not convinced they’re deliberately lying.

The truth is, estimates are that all sides in the campaign will have spent more than $63.5 million on this campaign. Of that money, $30.5 million came as campaign donations to Scott Walker, 66% of which—two thirds—came from out of state. Donations to Walker were unlimited, meaning that rich people could make the biggest contribution they wanted to.

In stark contrast, contributors to Democrat Tom Barrett were limited by law to donating no more that $10,000, and that was reflected in his donations: Only $3.9 million, most of which—75%—was raised IN Wisconsin. That means that Walker and the Republicans had a roughly eight to one fundraising advantage, and Walker’s direct contributions alone account for nearly half of all the money in the campaign.

The rest of the money came for “Super PACs”, those large “independent” organisations free to spend up large on election campaigns, thanks to Citizens United. While some are affiliated with labour unions, the vast majority of the money was spent by Republican and corporate-aligned Super PACs. Democrats were outspent around two to one by Republican/corporate Super PACs.

All up, pro-Walker spending accounted for up to around three quarters of all the money spent in the campaign (we’ll have to wait for all the final tallies to know what the final amounts are, but I doubt the proportions will change, except maybe to be worse for Democrats).

Labour unions were the ONE force able to raise large amounts of money and provide on-the-ground support for Democratic candidates. The Wisconsin results show they can no longer do that, which means that Republicans and their corporate backers will be pretty much unchallenged in many places, including Wisconsin. That’s why American democracy is now on life support: Oligarchy and plutocracy are not democracy, but that’s what America looks to be headed for. If so, that “blue collar worker” may prove to be correct.

However, there’s always hope. It’s still possible that the US can reform its system. It’s unlikely that the Supreme Court will reverse its own boneheaded Citizens United decision, and it’s even more unlikely that the US Constitution will be amended to do that. Instead, laws requiring transparency along with publicly financed election campaigns are probably the best hope for reducing the influence of big money.

Until and unless reform happens, the US will continue its slide into oligarchy and plutocracy. Other Republican governors and state legislators will be emboldened now to try to destroy unions in their states in order to achieve, in the words of Henry Olsen, a vice president at the rightwing American Enterprise Institute, the “defunding of the Democratic-party shock troops.” (http://tinyurl.com/77d8smp)

I prefer to think the “blue collar worker” and Olsen and the Republicans are all wrong, that democracy will rebound in the US—but it’s getting harder and harder to think that. Hopefully, democracy will be strong enough to surprise us all.

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