I am delighted to be involved in a New Scottish Newspaper and to be writing and cartooning on American Politics. Here is the first article.
On January 30th America woke to learn that two relatively unknown elderly white men were to bankroll the Republican cause in the 2016 Presidential campaign to the tune of $900,000,000. Almost a full billion dollars are to be directed toward the campaign to ultimately elect the Republican candidate of their choosing. It had candidates slavering to be at their knees and attend their winter beauty parades. Here the candidate has to persuade the funders, not the electors, of their suitability to rule.
Last January in Palm Springs, the ‘Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce’ held the ‘Koch Primary’ between Republican Presidential aspirants Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz; disciples washing the feet of the priests. If they please, or if they promise the right things, they will be given their backing among with other worthy candidates. If they fail their audition, as Rand Paul is reputed to have done, they are cast out to search elsewhere for funds and support.
Charles and David Koch are probably little known in Scotland and they are only marginally better known in the USA who made their money the old fashioned way; by inheriting it. Their grandfather Harry Koch was a corporate-boosting publisher and railroad land speculator in Quanah Texas at the turn of the last century. Their father Fred Koch helped Stalin build Soviet oilfields in the 1930’s, but the communist profits did not stop him from helping found the militantly anti-communist John Birch society. Upon inheriting the family fortune, Charles and David have leveraged this wealth to become among the richest men on the planet, coming from a proud lineage of capitalist plutocrats.
They are now using their hereditary capitalist ingenuity to develop a brand new funding vehicle known as a “SuperPAC”, which has completely transformed the American political landscape. A billion dollars is as much as either party will be funding themselves. Given that the Koch’s and their network are willing to chip in nearly $1 billion to the next election, the SuperPAC constellation now has as much power and influence in American Politics as any single party, and can muster unlimited contributions from individuals or corporations, has no limits on expenditure and no requirement to disclose contributors. They have a larger megaphone than any opposition.
So what exactly is a SuperPAC?
‘Normal’ Political Action Committees (PAC’s) were created to lobby for a specific interest. They are legally sanctioned entities which solicit contributions from their members, and represent these interests in the federal and state legislatures. While there is at least one PAC for any conceivable interest, perhaps the National Rifle Association (NRA) has the highest profile. They receive annual fees from their several million members and the armaments industry, then funnel that money in direct campaign contributions to candidates, and run televised propaganda campaigns against those in favour of even a modicum of gun control.
A SuperPac or Super Political Action Committee is a non-profit group built to funnel unlimited political spending into not so much issue-based campaigns, but more broadly ideological. Their existence was sanctioned by the 2010 ‘Citizens United’ Supreme Court decision, which psychedelically held that corporations are people, money is speech, so unlimited contributions to candidates and groups in complete anonymity enjoy first amendment ‘free-speech’ protections.
These groups are not exclusive to the Koch brothers, and many are also funded by Democratic leaning donors. However, the Kochs through funding ‘Americans for Prosperity’, ‘FreedomWorks’, and dozens of other federal and state level conservative think tanks, have brought their influence to an unprecedented level. The Koch’s are not the only donors, but they are the nexus of a group of billionaires who funnel untraceable ‘dark money’ to conservative causes and candidates.
Under the law, SuperPACs cannot ‘coordinate’ any one candidate but by running advertising campaigns attempt to influence the voters. They also employ increasingly effective negative campaign adverts opposing specific candidates. In a system already awash in campaign donations from a myriad of sources, such a level of financial backing constitutes a political financial arms race.
Like an arms manufacturer, the Koch Brothers conceal their influence with a bewildering array of these SuperPACS each devoting their energies to specific candidates and agendas yet all working together under the ‘Kochtopus’.
SuperPACs and billionaire backers can give life to campaigns and candidates whose ability to attract voters would otherwise be limited. Newt Gingrich’s careening performance in 2012 was allowed to stagger on simply because he had multi-million dollar cheques given from billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson allowing him to fund more execrable adverts.
As cited in the Guardian, constitutional Harvard law Professor Noah Feldman expert held “You can imagine a world where you can’t get elected without the backing of a billionaire, Adelson is not breaking any rules. But the rules are mad.” A single multi-billionaire may now have sufficient clout to buy the occupant of the White House. Of course none of this is being done pro bono, or for the public good. These are rich men who intend to stay rich, and get richer. The money that is being showered on a favourite candidate is not a gift, it is an investment, and they expect returns on their generosity. For example, Sheldon Adelson also funds the Likud party in Israel, and is a staunch opponent of Arab-Israeli peace. The candidate he would pay to put in office would be obliged to follow his dictates on Israeli policy.
Where wealth is concentrated among such a low percentage of people bad things happen. It is bad for the economy, bad for the wealthy themselves, bad for the poor and bad for the country as a whole.
Oligarchies or cartels are most effective when they control the supply of essential elements of the economy such as energy. We complain, for instance, that British energy supplies are in too few hands and that they work together to control the market.
Liberals (in the US sense of he term: the political left) have long recognised that such economic cartels, where they exercise such controls, are unfair to the customers and have sought to break them up, for example through the Sherman Anti-Trust Acts passed in the late 19h century. However, when it comes to cartels of political influence exercising control over the democratic process, far from seeking to remove these in the name of their consumers, electors seemingly entrench such cartels.
This is a threat to American democracy, to the extent it still exists.
Copyright David Macadam 2015