The Times West Virginian

Opinion

November 12, 2013

Vast amounts of campaign cash poisons U.S. politics

Four West Virginia coal industry millionaires evidently exceeded federal limits for political donations — nearly all given to Republicans — reporter David Gutman revealed.

But those federal limits are a joke, easily evaded via “soft money” and “dark money” and “super PACs” and phony “social welfare” groups and other schemes that let the rich funnel vast sums to the GOP. Some political fronts aren’t allowed to campaign directly for candidates, but they can buy slanted TV spots smearing their opponents.

For example, it’s estimated that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson poured as much as $150 million into last year’s attempt to defeat President Obama. He’s on record as giving $20.5 million to a super-PAC that backed Newt Gingrich — and when Gingrich sank to the failure he deserved, Adelson poured $30 million more to a super-PAC for Mitt Romney, who likewise sank to failure. Federal donation limits didn’t impede Adelson.

Why are the wealthy allowed to attempt to buy elections, despite laws setting contribution ceilings? Here’s why:

In the landmark 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that giving money for campaign ads is a form of “free speech,” which cannot be limited. Thus billionaires, who can give a thousand times more than average folks, are entitled to a thousand times more free speech.

In the landmark 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, conservatives on the high court ruled that corporations are “persons” who are entitled to free speech, just like people. Since then, corporations too can bankroll the GOP. The ruling also let labor unions donate, but they have shrunk so badly they have little to give.

Currently, another pending case, McCutcheon v. FEC, may destroy the few restraints on political cash that remain. The Lexington Herald-Leader said this case may lead to a “nightmare plutocracy” of “selling government to the highest bidders.” It added:

“Defenders of democracy back to Theodore Roosevelt have fought to curb the poisoning of our political system by money infusions from wealthy individuals and corporations. But lately they’ve been losing.”

In the pending 2014 West Virginia race for U.S. Senate, Republican Shelley Moore Capito already has $3.2 million in campaign funds, while Democratic challenger Natalie Tennant has only $153,000 — a 20-to-1 lopsided advantage. When the avalanche of TV ads begins, brace yourself for 20 smears on one side for each one on the other.

If people simply ignored the television barrage and voted according to their personal beliefs, the problem of “poisoning” by the rich would fade.

— The Charleston Gazette

This editorial does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Times West Virginian editorial board.

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