Liberal Dark Money Duplicity
Montana Democrats are elated to see the Billings Gazette issue an editorial smack-down of Ryan Zinke’s brazenly stupid escape from the September 29th debate with Lewis. Zinke is clearly slime and, if elected, exemplifies how truly absurd our politics have become. Good on the Gazette for finally realizing what scum papers like theirs usually stenograph for (I doubt the editorial board’s indignation will last for long).
But much of the criticism from progressive blogs toward Zinke has been directed at the obvious signs of illegal coordination with his super PAC, Special Operations for America (SOFA).
All of that is very important and accurate criticism to toss at Zinke, but there’s a problem, and that problem is liberal dark money duplicity as reported in the Indy this week by Ketti Wilhelm and Dennis Swibold. Here’s an excerpt:
While Montana’s far right has never supported dark money disclosure, organizers of I-168 were surprised to hear objections from liberal groups that typically support disclosure. Peterson says he reached out directly to potential supporters on the left, but couldn’t get any bites.
“Everybody says, ‘Yeah, I don’t like dark money,’ but when it comes time to raise the money to get the signatures … people clam up,” he says.
Sandy Welch, a Republican and an organizer for the “Stop Dark Money” initiative, says her group sought support from across the political spectrum, yet managed to raise only about $20,000—a fraction of what it takes to bring an initiative to the ballot in such a large state.
“There are a lot of people who fund political activities who like dark money,” Welch says. “They don’t want it to go away.”
The organizers weren’t the only ones surprised at the initiative’s failure.
“Where were the organizations?” asks Anthony Johnstone, a professor of constitutional and election law at the University of Montana. “Where were the unions? Where was Common Cause? Where were the parties? Without that kind of support, you’re going to have a hard time qualifying an initiative, even on something so recently salient in Montana.”
These large pools of money will never see the light of day if this duplicity persists. You can’t bash the trough of cash then slink off to guzzle your share.
Money buys influence, plain and simple. The vast majority of people in American don’t factor in to the political equation anymore at all. They even reported on this phenomenon in the Washington Post:
Everyone thinks they know that money is important in American politics. But how important? The Supreme Court’s Gilded Age reasoning in McCutcheon v. FEC has inspired a flurry of commentary regarding the potential corrosive influence of campaign contributions; but that commentary largely ignores the broader question of how economic power shapes American politics and policy. For decades, most political scientists have sidestepped that question, because it has not seemed amenable to rigorous (meaning quantitative) scientific investigation. Qualitative studies of the political role of economic elites have mostly been relegated to the margins of the field. But now, political scientists are belatedly turning more systematic attention to the political impact of wealth, and their findings should reshape how we think about American democracy.
A forthcoming article in Perspectives on Politics by (my former colleague) Martin Gilens and (my sometime collaborator) Benjamin Page marks a notable step in that process. Drawing on the same extensive evidence employed by Gilens in his landmark book “Affluence and Influence,” Gilens and Page analyze 1,779 policy outcomes over a period of more than 20 years. They conclude that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
Concentrated wealth supersedes the ballot, so stop expecting the ballot to change the status quo.