As Election Day approaches, two reports show us exactly how corrupted our political system has become. Unless voters come out in force, it looks like corporate money is about to buy itself another house of Congress.
The Wall Street Journal analyzed filings from the Federal Election Commission and concluded that
In a significant shift, business groups gave more money to Republican candidates than to Democrats in seven of the most competitive Senate races in recent months, in some cases taking the unusual step of betting against sitting senators.
The Journal found that corporate PACs gave most of their donations to Democrats in the early part of the campaign. That fits with a longstanding pattern: big-business interests shower incumbents with money to encourage special treatment, both during the election year and in the upcoming term.
But giving has shifted dramatically since June. The Journal discovered that Republican candidates received the lion's share of corporate campaign contributions in the July-to-September time period. The cash-generating power of incumbency had faded -- for Democrats.
One reason for the shift, according to sources, is a sense that Democrats are the underdogs. "Wall Street expects return on investment," a brokerage executive told the Journal. "It makes no sense to contribute to a losing campaign."
The other reason, of course, is ideologically-based. Corporations feel more comfortable abandoning incumbent Democrats than they do turning their backs on more reliably loyal Republicans. Mitch McConnell has been awash in corporate cash this year, for example -- thanks to his far-right stance, his chances of re-election, and the position of influence he would hold as Majority Leader if the GOP captures the Senate.
In a related report, Public Citizen analyzed the flow of "dark money" (from groups which don't have to disclose their donors) and found that the United States Chamber of Commerce,the largest dark-money spender, "is leaving a huge footprint in almost every race it enters."
As of October 25, the Chamber had spent $31.8 million on House and Senate races. The second-largest dark-money spender, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, had spent $23.5 million. Other big-spending dark-money groups include "Patriot Majority USA," the extremist "Americans for Prosperity," and the National Rifle Association.
Public Citizen found that the Chamber was "the biggest spender among non-disclosing outside groups in 28 of 35 races in which it has gotten involved. It is the second-biggest non-disclosing spender in three races, and the third-biggest dark money spender in four races."
This dark money is being spent in as lopsided a manner as that of the business PACs analyzed by the Wall Street Journal, with Public Citizen concluding that "almost all of the money the Chamber has spent has gone to aid Republicans or hinder Democrats ... The Chamber has not spent any money supporting Democrats."
The Nation's George Zornick (who we interviewed about the election last week on The Zero Hour) notes that "the Chamber is a 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization, meaning it doesn't have to disclose its donors." Zornick adds that publicly-available data reveals that "much of the Chamber's money has generally come from titans in the oil, banking and agriculture industries, among others."
In the past, many Congressional Democrats were able to count on the power of incumbency to trump party affiliation or the "liberal" label when it came time to collect corporate cash. But as Republicans have become increasingly shameless in their subservience to business interests - remember "Washington is here to serve the banks"? - corporations may sense that the time is coming when no longer need to compromise with government at all. From the Wall Street Journal:
"It's increasingly likely we're going to reestablish a pro-business majority in the Senate," said Rob Engstrom, national political director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which mostly backs conservative candidates. He said President Barack Obama and other party leaders had made Democratic candidates "vulnerable, so companies aren't going to write PAC checks to candidates who fundamentally don't represent their interests."
If the incumbents in Washington haven't been representing corporate interests effectively, it's hard to imagine who could. Both corporate profits and the personal wealth of the 1 percent soared in the aftermath of a financial crisis which left most Americans worse off than ever before.
Perhaps Engstrom meant to say "companies aren't going to write PAC checks to candidates who don't solely represent their interests." From the looks of things, Corporate America is no longer content with buying political influence. Now it wants to turn Congress into a wholly-owned subsidiary. And it may well succeed, unless the voters thwart them on Tuesday.
For Democrats in Congress, perhaps the moral of the story is this: Don't chase their money, because they'll still betray you in the end -- just like they did on Social Security. Instead of kowtowing to them, fight them. You may not be able to outspend your opponents, but that option seems to be disappearing anyway. At least that way you'll have the voters on your side.
For the American people, the moral of this story couldn't be clearer: If we don't get money out of politics, we'll lose our democracy altogether.