If you’re curious why many House Republicans are on board with an unhinged plan to threaten a government shutdown or default over demands to “defund” Obamacare, you should follow the money. That’s what the New York Times editorial board argued in a compelling op-ed Tuesday.
Far-right groups such as the Club for Growth are striking out at Republicans who refuse to take this reckless stance, wielding their considerable funds to “inflict political pain” on those who do not share their extremist position. And they are titillating their Tea Party supporters with political fantasies in order to get them to send in even more money, so they can ramp up their attack on Republicans who don’t toe the line. In “The Money Behind the Shutdown Crisis,” the editorial board wrote:
These groups, all financed with secret and unlimited money, feed on chaos and would like nothing better than to claim credit for pushing Washington into another crisis. Winning an ideological victory is far more important to them than the severe economic effects of a shutdown or, worse, a default, which could shatter the credit markets.
[…] Brian Walsh, a longtime Republican operative, recently noted in U.S. News and World Report that the right is now spending more money attacking Republicans than the Democrats are. “Money begets TV ads, which begets even more money for these groups’ personal coffers,” he wrote. “Pointing fingers and attacking Republicans is apparently a very profitable fund-raising business.”
And as more money pours into these shadowy groups, their influence – and thus their potential for inflicting further damage on our democracy – grows. With fewer effective campaign finance regulations left standing in the post-Citizens United landscape, there is little that can stop these groups from using their money to bully elected officials.
But the functioning of our government is not a game. And though for these fringe groups making an ideological point may seem more important than keeping our government from shutting down or defaulting, Americans are tired of having our basic economic security called into question over political posturing.
As the Times editorial board put it:
It may be good for their bank accounts, but the combination of unlimited money and rigid ideology is proving toxic for the most basic functioning of government.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser was supposed to win reelection in a walk, after winning a February primary with 55% of the vote. Prosser, a former Republican state assemblyman, faced JoAnne Kloppenburg, who previously served as the state’s assistant attorney general and came in second in the primary. But Governor Scott Walker’s brazen push to bust unions and implement an ultraconservative political agenda spurred the progressive community into action, and Walker’s popularity plummeted.
Many of the Wisconsinites who are outraged over the right-wing policies pursued by Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature, rallied to Kloppenburg’s side. Walker allies feared the potential defeat of Prosser, who called himself “a common sense complement to both the new [Walker] administration and Legislature.”
While there are just a few hundred votes separating the two candidates, guaranteeing a recount, last-minute spending by right-wing organizations helped salvage Prosser’s flagging campaign.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice of New York University, which monitors spending in judicial elections, pro-corporate groups have greatly outspent progressive organizations. The Brennan Center found that spending in the race passed the $3.5 million mark, with most of the spending benefiting Prosser.
While the Greater Wisconsin Committee ran ads against Prosser’s reelection, pro-corporate organizations such as the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (an amalgamate of the Wisconsin State Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Manufacturers Association), the Club for Growth, Citizens for a Strong America, and the Tea Party Express have flooded the state with ads supporting Prosser and berating Kloppenburg.
As of Monday, the four groups which backed Prosser spent a combined $2,177,220, but the Greater Wisconsin Committee spent $1,363,040. The final spending figures have not yet been tallied.
Citizens for a Strong America, a front group for the Koch Brothers-financed Americans for Prosperity, ran an ad so erroneous that the nonpartisan group PolitiFact gave it a “pants on fire” rating. Even the far-right Family Research Council added to the smear campaign, attacking Kloppenburg, who worked as assistant attorney general since 1989, as inexperienced in advertisements on thirty-four Wisconsin radio stations.
With a recount pending, Kloppenburg’s come-from-behind campaign shows the ability of progressives in states like Wisconsin to overcome the corporate juggernaut that is able to spend almost limitless amounts of money to support its favored candidates.
527 “Super PACs” are permitted to explicitly urge viewers to vote for or against a candidate running for office, but are required to disclose their contributors. In the case of Citizens for a Working America PAC, which can raise unlimited funds from corporations and individuals, the “Citizens” represent just one group: an organization called “New Models.”
According to its FEC filing, New Models is the PAC’s single donor. Citizens for a Working America’s lone expenditure was $250,000 for ads opposing South Carolina Democrat John Spratt, and the PAC raised $255,000 from New Models, a 501(c)4 that does not disclose its donors. Therefore, Citizens for a Working America’s only “Citizen” is not a citizen at all, but a 501(c)4 firm that claims to specialize in political communication.
The Sunlight Foundation profiles the connection between a top Republican consultant, pro-GOP political groups (including Sarah Palin’s leadership PAC), and Citizens for a Working America:
According to records kept by the Virginia Secretary of State, the president and treasurer of New Models is Tim Crawford. According to reports published earlier this year, Crawford was also involved in a shadowy political advertising campaign in Ohio. His firm was the sole funder of a $1.5 million anti-slot machine campaign. People involved in the case in Ohio charged that New Models was a front organization bankrolling the political agendas of certain powerful players.
Crawford is also listed as the treasurer of Sarah Palin’s Political Action Committee, SarahPAC. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, SarahPAC made a $3,500 contribution to Republican candidate Mick Mulvaney--who's running against Spratt in South Carolina.
Including Citizens for a Working America PAC, Spratt has been targeted by seven outside groups. Club for Growth, an organization that's supported Tea Party candidates, has spent $209,000 opposing the South Carolinian Democrat. According to TransparencyData.com, the group has also contributed $1,000.00 to Mulvaney.
Mulvaney is also a recipient of $2,000 from Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who has supported Tea Party-backed candidates.
Sen. DeMint has not only contributed to help Mulvaney win along with Club for Growth and SarahPAC, but has received money for his own campaign from those groups as well. Club for Growth is DeMint’s top contributor giving him almost $150,000 since 2005. He's received $2,500 from SarahPAC.
To date, $1.6 million has been spent to oppose Spratt’s bid for re-election. Citizens for a Working America has spent $250,000.
In the world of sports, corporate sponsorship has increasingly become associated with naming rights. That's why we now have the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Discover Orange Bowl, and the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands.
But why limit this to the world of sports? Perhaps it's time for Americans to recognize the corporate sponsorship of Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail by using corporate sponsorship names.
The only catch, of course, is that the megacorporations that are spending unprecedented amounts of campaign cash are hiding their identities in the shadows. Fortunately, though, we know the organizations who are laundering the money for them.
So if the elections go as the Republicans and their corporate sponsors hope, we may well soon be talking about Sen. Club For Growth Buck of Colorado and Sen. Club For Growth Johnson of Wisconsin.
For those who appreciate a little foreign influence in their elections – and on their elected officials – perhaps
the people of Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois corporations will see their interests represented by a Sen. Chamber of Commerce Blunt, Sen. Chamber of Commerce Coates, and Sen. Chamber of Commerce Kirk.
Of course, we shouldn't forget the hard work that Karl Rove has been doing to hide the unprecedented deluge of corporate campaign cash from the American public. So we may soon be welcoming Sen. American Crossroads Fiorina of California, Sen. American Crossroads Paul of Kentucky, Sen. American Crossroads Portman of Ohio, and Sen. American Crossroads Ayotte of New Hampshire.
As any sports fan knows, the fights over naming rights can be quite expensive. So should Harry Reid lose his race for reelection, there may well be a bidding war over whether Nevada will be represented by Sen. American Crossroads Angle, Sen. Club For Growth Angle, or Sen. Americans For New Leadership & Liberty Angle.
Alternatively, Americans can show up to the polls to fulfill the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg: that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Yesterday, PFAW released “After Citizens United,” documenting the torrents of money that have poured into the political system since the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision allowing corporations the same rights as people to influence elections.
Imagine my glee when I found an e-mail from Americans For Prosperity, one of the organizations profiled in the report, in my Inbox this morning:
People for the American Way,
You recently released a report where you parroted a false attack that has repeatedly been levied against Americans for Prosperity. Neither our operations nor our donors were affected in any way by Citizens United. Please see our release below in response to the President’s repeated misrepresentation of this important Supreme Court decision.
I await your clarification.
Director of Government Affairs
Americans for Prosperity
James helpfully included this press release by way of support.
We’re always happy to hear feedback on our reports, even unsubstantiated criticism, so I figured AFP might appreciate some feedback on some of the work it's been doing.
Thanks so much for your note regarding our report.
We’d be more than happy to address your claims just as soon as you address a few concerns that we have.
As our report notes, AFP spent $750,000 on an ad claiming that “government-run health care” would harm cancer patients, especially women with breast cancer. PolitiFact gave the ad its “Pants on Fire” rating for distorting both new recommendations on mammograms and the Health Care Reform bill, which has a provision to “ensure that mammograms for women aged 40 to 50 would be covered,” and FactCheck called it “very misleading.” AFP should retract these ads.
AFP has also run ads concentrated on the Stimulus Plan, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and Health Care Reform. AFP’s ads push the fictitious claim that Health Care Reform creates “Government Healthcare.” PolitiFact points out that “Obama’s plan leaves in place the private health care system, but seeks to expand it to the uninsured.” AFP should certainly retract these ads.
In addition, your group also misleads viewers by interpreting savings from waste and overpayment in the Medicare program as cuts affecting seniors. Americans for Prosperity also employs false attacks against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and groundlessly blames the Stimulus Plan for increased unemployment, even though studies show that the Stimulus stopped the prolongation of the massive job losses which began under the Bush Administration. These claims should be clarified or retracted.
Also, while I have your attention, I’d be curious to get your take on the unethical and possibly illegal voter caging in Wisconsin in which AFP has been implicated. As you know, federal law prohibits racially targeted caging operations as well as the process of challenging voters based solely on returned mail. It seems appropriate for AFP to make public statements affirming the right of all American citizens to cast a vote and to dissociate itself from any attempts at voter suppression.
Once you’ve taken care of those issues, I’d be happy to arrange a time for our lawyers to go over our report with you.
With best wishes,
Director of Communications
People For the American Way
We’ll see if they write back.
In the mean time, read more about Americans For Prosperity, Club For Growth, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other organizations trying to buy the 2010 elections in “After Citizens United.”