Elections for sale
Republican Scott Walker of Wisconsin became the first governor in U.S. history to beat back a recall effort this week. He didn't do it alone. He had the help of rich friends across the nation. This leaves a queasy feeling that U.S. elections are increasingly for sale.
Total spending on 15 Wisconsin recall races, including the one targeting Gov. Walker, will easily top $125 million, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks campaign dollars in the land of cheese. It estimates that spending on Walker's race by the candidates and outside groups will reach between $75 million and $80 million.
Walker's campaign raised at least $31 million. By comparison, his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, raised only $4 million. Walker was helped by a quirk in Wisconsin election law that allowed him to accept unlimited contributions during the five months before the recall election was officially declared.
Among the donors to Walker's campaign were Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate, who gave Walker $250,000. Bob J. Perry of Perry Homes in Houston, Tex., plunked down $500,000. You get the idea.
Walker also was the overwhelming winner in terms of independent spending by groups that do not coordinate their efforts with a candidate's campaign. One outfit alone the Right Direction Wisconsin PAC spent a cool $3.6 million encouraging Wisconsin voters to retain Walker. Barrett got only $116,000 in independent spending.
As a campaign finance arms race, this wasn't even close. Walker outspent Barrett at least 7-1. Walker won the election 53-46 percent.
Walker was subjected to a recall election in part because of his efforts to break the collective bargaining power of public employee unions. So this was a showdown between big business and big labor. Labor got trounced.
The United States has arrived at a new Gilded Age, with the nation's wealth concentrated at the top and a U.S. Supreme Court that rules that corporations have carte blanche to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns so long as they do not coordinate efforts directly with candidates.
That's why the group Move to Amend is trying to put two questions on the Salt Lake City ballot in November. It would ask voters if they agree that only human beings, not corporations, have constitutional rights, and if they agree that money is not speech, so regulations limiting campaign spending are not violations of free speech.
If the United States is not to become an oligarchy, the answers to these questions should be obvious.