Thursday, January 12, 2012

Citizens United and the Mad Billionaire

Newt Gingrich, mad as hell at Mitt Romney for burying him in Iowa under an avalanche of negative ads, is not going to take defeat lying down. Dana Milbank:
But there are 5 million reasons Republicans have to fear Gingrich. That’s the number of dollars billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson gave to a pro-Gingrich super PAC — the largest contribution to a candidate’s cause in U.S. history. This allowed the Winning our Future PAC to buy $3.4 million worth of ads in South Carolina — enough to saturate the state with poisonous messages about Mitt Romney. The 29-minute video taking apart Romney’s performance at Bain Capital, released Wednesday, provides a taste of what’s to come in the next week.
In this post-modern, heavily ironic election, populist attacks on the business practices of a leading capitalist are being funded by another leading capitalist, in support of a former Republican Speaker of the House. This is the fruits of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which equated spending money to buy ads with free speech. Now there is nothing the government can do to keep any millionaire from buying political ads for or against any candidate or cause. Reaction to this was largely along party lines: Democrats, who see themselves as the party of the poor, were aghast, while Republicans, who like to think they speak for the "successful," said it was no big deal. Milbank again:
Romney, on his way to South Carolina, complained explicitly that Gingrich was against “free enterprise.” Romney has it wrong. Gingrich’s attacks on him are the very essence of free enterprise: They’re helped by campaign finance laws that sell elections to the highest bidder. For those Republicans who thought that unlimited political contributions would be a good thing for their party, it’s a delicious irony that a casino billionaire is using his money to underwrite a populist assault on the GOP front-runner.
Indeed. Because, see,  there may be a few more billionaires who support Republicans than Democrats, but there are left-wing billionaires and even more who are just cranks. Who knows what oddball billionaire might step up next with an ax to grind?

I disagree with Milbank, though, that this represents selling elections to the highest bidder. Campaign ads have an impact, but they are rarely decisive. In a Presidential election, the economy matters much more. But it sure is fun to watch Romney and Gingrich accuse each other of "cronyism" and ignoring the common good.

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