In modern politics, money has always played a central role in determining election outcomes. In fact, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, nearly 94 percent of congressional races (as well as the presidency) were won by the candidate with the most money in 2008.
It’s a terrifying statistic – a statistic that should stop any progressive in his or her tracks, for it offers a window into what may soon transpire in November.
The central problem, dire in scope and about to be actualized, is this: in the wake of Citizens United, a handful of conservative billionaires are now free (and poised) to purchase the 2012 election at local and state levels. And save an unlikely reversal of Citizens United by the Supreme Court this month, there’s little that can be done to stop the coming train wreck.
We saw a glimpse of that train wreck play out in Wisconsin already, where despite intense support from unions and broad swaths of grassroots organizing, Governor Scott Walker survived a recall effort he would have almost certainly lost if not for his staggering monetary advantage.
And how did he achieve such an advantage over his opponent, Tom Barrett? Here’s Amy Goodman:
Coupled with the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the Wisconsin loophole [allowing Walker to raise unlimited funds] set the stage for grossly lopsided fundraising between Walker and Barrett, and an election battle that was the most expensive in Wisconsin’s history. According to the most recent state campaign-finance filings, Walker’s campaign raised over $30.5 million, more than seven times Barrett’s reported $3.9 million. After adding in super PAC spending, estimates put the recall-election spending at more than $63.5 million.
According to Forbes magazine, 14 billionaires made contributions to Walker, only one of whom lives in Wisconsin. Among the 13 out-of-state billionaires was Christy Walton, the widow of John T. Walton, son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.
Now, some may argue that Walker survived due to his constituents’ general views about what transgressions are recall-worthy. However, Wisconsinites’ views on the recall (and whether it was an appropriate process for this situation) were shaped, in no small part, by the incessant advertisements played on Walker’s behalf.
Consider these numbers:
Money raised by Walker: $30,505,082.66
Money raised by Barrett: $3,938,574.59
The Wisconsin recall election was, in truth, an open auction.
And the 2012 election will be, in a way we have never seen in modern elections, a vast, national open auction. Huge funding disparities, like that seen in the Walker vs. Barrett contest, will be replicated across the country in 2012. It will simply depend upon which races (and Super PACs) a select number of multimillionaires and billionaires choose to bankroll.
One of the only ways to change this new reality is for Citizens United to be struck down or reversed. The case currently before the Supreme Court, American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, is a direct challenge by the State of Montana to Citizen United. It is a direct challenge being supported by over 20 Attorneys General from additional states which have filed briefs in support of Montana’s challenge.
However, it’s a challenge that will almost assuredly fail. Why? The Supreme Court’s makeup is unchanged since the decision was rendered in 2010 – a decision choreographed and brilliantly executed by Chief Justice Roberts.
Which is why the 2012 presidential election is so critical, for with several justices expected to soon retire, the winner will determine the future, long-term makeup of the Supreme Court, as this viral graphic demonstrates:
Yes, President Obama is ahead in many national and swing-state polls. However, Mitt Romney outpaced the President’s fundraising in May, and this is no small matter. For it’s a trend that could continue, a trend that could have a significant impact come November.
It’s a trend that needs to be countered by a massive, popular revolt aimed at saving our democracy by (ironically) contributing money to and electing the man who currently leads it. Yes, it must be a revolt led by Occupy Wall Street activists tirelessly raising our national consciousness about the pervasive evil of our purchased democracy.
However, it must also be a counter-intuitive revolt led by individuals canvasing for Obama and donating to Obama’s campaign as a way to combat the one percent in our midst, in order to save our democracy from the open auctioneers Citizens United unleashed.
The 2012 election may be the most important one of my lifetime.
Which is why I will be donating to Obama, and working on his behalf. Not necessarily as a symbol of blanket approval for his Presidency, for there is much I am troubled by regarding his rule (particularly his illegal drone campaign and war on whistle-blowers).
Rather, it will be a way to fight the greatest threat our democracy has seen in the modern era: a conservative court willing to throw precedence to the wind in order to give corporations and our wealthiest elites the freedom to speak buy elections.
A court that can be changed. By just one man.
Follow the author – David Harris-Gershon – on Twitter @David_EHG