To the Editor:
In the last two weeks of this U.S. election cycle, it is estimated that over $50 million will be spent on political advertising. That would be a record spending total in this critical election eve time frame. Only a fraction of that sum — less than 20 percent — will have been spent by the actual political candidates. The rest will be spent by 501-C non-profit business entities.
As voters find themselves blitzed with glossy political ads during the countdown to Election Day, many important questions are being raised.
Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations possess the same free speech rights as individual American citizens. As a consequence, corporations can now infuse unlimited amounts of cash into any campaign arena to either support or undermine any targeted candidate for public office at any political level . . . city, county, state or federal.
In addition, they can do so in a completely invisible fashion now by simply forming a nonprofit 501-C organization to legally hide behind. The strict anonymity of financial support to category 501-C business entities is protected by law. All that is required of any 501-C non-profit is a physical address and a website. While some corporate sponsorship still goes directly into selected political campaigns in a reasonably transparent fashion, following last summer’s Supreme Court ‘Citizen United’ ruling the increasingly preferred strategy now is to go the 501-C route completely, independent of any political candidate. This strategy maximizes freedom of design when crafting political ‘opinion messages’ for the purpose of influencing public perception and ultimately voting preferences.
If it just so happens that a particular election cycle ‘opinion message’ is not well received by the public or goes beyond a candidate’s personal comfort zone with respect to accuracy or negativity, then that candidate which was intended to benefit from the ad can simply step away from the fallout and justifiably claim “It was out of my control and none of my doing.”
The American electorate is witnessing a major transformation in the dynamics of their democratic election process. The often ugly and deceptive campaign road has gotten even more rough and tumble with increasing and erratic shots taken at candidates by unknown assassins hiding behind these 501-C entities with such eminently sensible sounding names like ‘Americans for Job Security,’ and ‘Citizens for Economic Justice.’
To appreciate the full implications of the Citizens United Ruling, let’s take the example of financial reform. For the past two to three decades, Wall Street and many financial sectors became increasingly driven by clever schemes involving instruments designed for the sole purpose of pure speculation instead of honorably fulfilling their intended mission of orchestrating capital markets for the purpose of building actual goods and productive services.
Credit default swaps, hedge funds and the like ultimately led to the infamous financial sector implosion of 2007/2008, which this economy has yet to climb out of.
Enormous taxpayer-funded bailouts designed to head off a ‘domino-like’ complete and catastrophic meltdown of our entire financial system by the Bush administration inevitably led to financial system reform legislation by the Obama administration designed to prevent a repeat performance.
Well, it seems Wall Street and much of the financial sector desire a return to the high risk casino days of deregulation, and have opened their mighty war chest to fund an enormous yet anonymous 501-C ‘voter education’ effort, targeting any and all political candidates associated with or sympathetic to financial reform efforts.
Guesstimates of financial sector spending through 501- C entities range from 60 to 250 million. Corporations generally have clear strategic visions, long memories, and deep pockets, while in contrast, the general American electorate is often easily manipulated, forgetful, flatly uninformed, or uninterested.
Should these new 501-C tactics demonstrate viable persuasiveness during this election cycle, then an unmistakable shot will have been fired across the bow of every current and future candidate for public offi ce in America.
The message is this: If you, Mr. or Mrs. Politician threaten, investigate or legislate against any commercial interests with sufficient cash reserves, you will likely find yourself facing the tip end of an anonymous attack ad spear, cloaked in the guise of some angry grassroots citizens group.
With this threat looming constantly in the back of our elected officials’ minds, the issue of accountability is raised in bold letters. Are elected representatives accountable to their voters, or will they be more accountable to the specific special interest of corporations?
Recent polling reveals that some Americans don’t object to corporations running political ‘info-mercials’ as long as the funders clearly put their names on the ads they sponsor. It is the anonymous aspect of these misleading 501-C schemes that the public overwhelmingly find underhanded and off ensive.
A ‘Disclosure Act’ mandating more transparency in these matters passed the House, but failed in the Senate. Apparently, many Senators are benefiting from this cloak and dagger 501-C arrangements.
This should be an issue around which Americans can unite. Without disclosure our democratic electoral process loses a large measure of integrity.
JAMES LEWIS Whitesburg