Talk about Citizens United usually revolves around the anti-democratic fact that corporations and wealthy donors are now free to give unlimited amounts to oppose or support candidates of their choice. While it’s obvious that those wealthy individuals seeking to buy an election are likely to hold significant influence over their candidate of choice, it’s important to remember that these donors aren’t just hoping to elect the candidate they would most like to have a beer with – they are trying to buy the opportunity to enact a far-reaching policy agenda.
An editorial in today’s New York Times explores the policy interests of some of the approximately two-dozen individuals, couples and companies who have given 80 percent of the money collected by Super PACs – a whopping $54 million. These people want more than just President Obama’s defeat; an extreme Right-Wing policy agenda is part of the package.
Harold Simmons, a billionaire corporate raider, has given $1 million to Mr. Gingrich’s political action committee, $1.1 million to Rick Perry’s PAC, $100,000 to Mitt Romney’s PAC, and $10 million to American Crossroads, the super PAC advised by Karl Rove that is supporting many Republican candidates. Mr. Simmons’s companies make metals, paints and chemicals, among other things, and have gotten into trouble over lead and uranium emissions from previous decades. He also runs a radioactive waste dump in Texas that has clashed with environmental regulators over its proximity to a nearby aquifer. He controls Waste Control Specialists, which has contracts to clean up federal hazardous waste sites, including emissions from other companies he controls.
Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an outspoken libertarian, gave $2.6 million to Ron Paul’s PAC. In 2009, he wrote that the 1920s were the last decade when one could be optimistic about American politics, lamenting the subsequent rise of the welfare state that he blamed in part on giving women the right to vote.
Foster Friess, who gave $1 million to Rick Santorum’s Red White and Blue PAC, is a mutual fund manager who recently declared that aspirin used to be an effective contraceptive when women put it between their knees. He is a former president of the Council for National Policy, a secretive club of some of the country’s most powerful conservatives, which opposes unions, same-sex marriage and government regulation.
If roughly 24 people can use their gigantic bank accounts to pursue an agenda like this, it’s no wonder that the vast majority of Americans believe the pervasive influence of money in politics –exasperated by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United – is not working in the people’s best interest.