Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Billionaire influence from Super PACs weakens American democracy

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Political history geeks (myself included) are often fascinated by who ended up becoming president. The vice president was a place to hide a politician where they couldn’t do much harm. The most famous episode came when Theodore Roosevelt was picked to run on William McKinley’s re-election ticket in 1900. McKinley’s vice president, Garret Hobart, died in 1899.

The powers that be felt Roosevelt would be less of a nuisance as VP than New York governor.

John Tyler, Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester A. Arthur — each with their own odd tale of becoming president.

The modern primary and caucus system was designed to rid ourselves of smoke-filled rooms so the American people had more of a say. Thanks to Citizens United, we are back to those days once again.

We normally wouldn’t care about Foster Friese’s birth-control philosophy. After all, if your crazy uncle said something so backward and offensive about a Bayer aspirin between your knees, you’d slip him a shot of NyQuil and hope he falls asleep rather quickly to save the party.

Unfortunately, Friese’s position on birth control is part of the national political conversation because a) he’s extremely rich, b) he likes donating millions to political campaign, and c) he is heavily supporting a candidate whose views on birth control are severely antiquated.

The MSM follows the bark of the Republicans, so the focus isn’t on the economy anymore; suddenly, women’s reproductive health is our nation’s major concern.

Women’s reproductive health is a serious concern, but not for the actual reasons. Women’s reproductive health is an issue because Foster Friese makes it an issue.

Again, if Foster Friese were an angry old man who was financially struggling, we wouldn’t care about his views. Thanks to Citizens United, Foster Friese can give unlimited funds to Rick Santorum. Without Citizens United, we wouldn’t care about Rick Santorum’s views on birth control, since he would have no shot of winning the GOP nomination.

Newt Gingrich can also stick around thanks to his billionaire buddy, Sheldon Adelson.

Before Citizens United, the fate of Santorum and Gingrich would have been in the hands of the people who voted or didn’t vote for them, much in the same way that Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Jon Huntsman left the race. Thanks to Citizens United and the newly found power of billionaires, the perception of Santorum and Gingrich are skewed.

So now we are talking about birth control and women’s reproductive health … in 2012.

One person who wants to be a vice presidential candidate is Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. And McDonnell was staking that idea on legislation that would force women, full-grown women, to undergo transvaginal ultrasound before having an abortion. Does it matter if the doctor thinks that’s a bad idea? Does it matter if a woman has ever been raped? Does it matter if the woman says “no”? Not in Virginia.

Virginia may be for lovers, but if you get pregnant and you don’t want to be, get the hell out of there.

As disturbing and unsettling as the Virginia law would be, McDonnell and the delegates in the Virginia house and senate are accountable to the voters. Santorum and Gingrich aren’t. Neither are Friese and Adelson.

Super PACs allow for unlimited donations with no disclosure and no accountability. Foreigners can’t contribute to presidential campaigns but they can contribute to Super PACs. And they have. And even if a campaign coordinates with a Super PAC — which Mitt Romney noted would send him to the Big House — the chances of the Federal Election Commission being able to do something about it is highly slim, and the chances of doing something before November are virtually nil.

Though the rooms would no longer be filled with smoke, those days are awfully tempting. You might get stronger candidates if they don’t have to get dragged through the mud, such as in our current system. And if millionaires and billionaires are cut out of the equation, you might get candidates on both sides of the political aisle who will bypass the rhetoric about the middle-class and help the tens of millions who don’t quite make it to middle class. On paper, that might seem less democratic, but it would be more about the people.

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