Super PACs: A Culture of Greed in a Corrupt Political System | Robert Heston

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You could say that it started with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010 then SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission. You could, but that was just a symptom of something that had been building since the Reagan Administration in the 1980’s. Citizens United grew out of a culture that had been evolving ever since Ronald Reagan apparently proclaimed, “greed is good” …or did he? That Reagan said it is just a myth. The quote originates from Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street when Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko, tells an audience of stockholders that “greed is good.” Gordan Gekko may have said it in 1987, but Ronald Reagan and his “free-market cronies” were already building the foundation for it. (The Daily Take Team, 2016)

Greed was the new mantra. Reagan and the Republicans did what they could to reward greed. Business was encouraged to make as much money as possible no matter what the cost to society. Mergers were in. The Sherman Act was all but forgotten as large companies were allowed to merge with other large companies to create large monopolies. The Sherman Act of 1890 along with the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Clayton Act had made “monopolies” (or trusts) illegal long before Reagan came along. (Commission, 2018)

The biggest thing government did was to reduce taxes for the wealthiest. The tax rate for them went from 90% in the 1950’s to 70% in the 1960’s and 70’s all the way down to 28% in the 1980’s. The idea behind that was termed “supply side economics” with the stated purpose being to create more economic growth. George H.W. Bush called it “voodoo economics” and that combined with many other of Reagan’s and the Republican economic policies of the time were commonly known as “Reaganomics.” (Parry, 2011)

The tax and accounting rules were changed such that CEO’s pay could become stock and stock options in their company. The idea was to directly relate their pay to their company’s efficiency thereby producing more money for everyone. However, the effect was that the executives would cut corners every way possible to increase their income from the stocks and it did not matter who they hurt. (The Daily Take Team, 2016)

The combined effects of the Republican policies and corporate management cultivated a culture of greed that was off to the races. One of the apparent signs of this has been the fact that, relatively speaking, the wages of the American worker have been stagnant since the 1970’s.

The Harvard Business Review had some observations and speculations on the subject. They didn’t exactly pinpoint it when they said it could be due to, “shifts in technology and market structure that have disadvantaged workers.” They did mention “international trade” as one of the culprits. For technology, “it is taking fewer people to do the same work.” The lack of having a four-year degree or better explains much of it… apparently. “Domestic policy” and the “decline of unions” also plays a part… perhaps. They covered some of the influential factors, but they never got to the heart of the matter which is obviously greed. Government and corporate policies reeked of it.

Fast forward to Bill Clinton and NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). (USTR, 2018) Through this and other trade agreements manufacturing emptied out of the United States taking millions of jobs with it. American corporations started moving their manufacturing operations out of the country. Corporate greed had taken a giant leap forward at great cost to the American public. There’s our “international trade” combined with some “domestic policy.”

There was already some level of it before Reagan, but ever since Reagan, the relationship of corporate America and the American government has grown very close. The pursuit of wealth, above all else, has virtually merged corporate and government power taking us from capitalism to bordering on fascism (Wikipedia, 2018). (Giroux, 2018) There is much to be said about this, but it is suffice to say that the US has many of the ingredients of a fascist state. Fascism, as defined by Benito Mussolini, is that “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” (Wikiquote, 2018)

One way corporate influences can merge with the federal government is through privatization of government agencies. It is an obvious way to turn government into a for-profit business. The for-profit corporation that owns the service will typically reduce the quality of that service to save on expenditures, raise the prices of that service to its users, and lower the pay to its employees. Everyone loses except the owners, the executives, and/or the stockholders of that corporation.

Why would the citizens in our democratic country want their government to privatize its parts? For the most part they would not… or would they? You just have to wonder why it is that most people would think that paying more for less would be a good idea. There are two likely reasons for that. One would be that they have heard the latest propaganda supporting privatization and the other is they have heard about the bad shape the agency in question is in. Many of the current politicians, primarily Republican, would have most of the government privatized and essentially turn the whole thing into a conglomerate of corporations. (Gans, 2017)

One tactic the politicians in government will use to promote privatization is to defund the agency they want to do it with. Historically, they have defunded public education time and time again. Privatizing that agency has been the quest of Republicans and some democrats for a long time. They have made some progress by installing charter schools. The current head of that agency, Betsy DeVos, wants to privatize the whole thing. She is heavily invested in for-profit education (Jimenez, 2017).

Politicians in our government and especially their friends and campaign donors would love to privatize many things in our government and/or already have, such as: the Veterans Health Administration, Social Security, prisons, public schools, the US Postal Service, Medicare, and Public Utilities. As if there were not already enough opportunity without trying to devour every aspect of the US government. That is a trend towards the marriage of corporations and the state. Lawmakers talk about the many benefits privatization can bring, but there is only evidence of how it fails. (Buchheit, 2013)

I thought we were supposed to be operating an economy based on capitalism. That meaning a free enterprise system where anyone can create any sort of business enterprise within the law and along with competition among other enterprises make as much profit as the system will provide… may the best business win! In doing this, each business must follow the same rules and regulations as all the other businesses and if they fail, they fail and if they win, they win and anything in between. It works like evolution. The superior survives and the inferior fails… or is it?

That may have been the case in the past but come 2008 things changed. Banks, Wall Street investment firms, and some corporations failed. Not only did they fail, but the financial businesses had twisted and perverted the rules and otherwise, essentially created their own demise while causing quite a lot of pain and misery to millions of citizens. Did the government come to the rescue of all those victims of the dysfunctional businesses? No, they did not. What they did do was come to the rescue of those businesses. They did so by using the tax money of all those victims, along with everyone else. As of 2015, the bailout was still moving along with having put out $4.6 trillion with a total planned bailout amount of $16.8 trillion. (Collins, 2015) (Peirce, 2012)

What happened to the free enterprise system? Well, they were “too big to fail!” Oh, they must mean that if those businesses were allowed to fail, it would cause the loss of millions of jobs for American citizens, right? No, not really. Let me put it this way, “The operating principles of the big banks were a cesspool of greed, ethics and criminal intent.” During the build up to this Wall street was considered the “heart and soul of free market capitalism,” but when they were in danger of total collapse “they fell on their knees as socialists, begging to be bailed out.” It was warned that there would be a worldwide depression if they were not bailed out immediately.

The public was only supposed to know about the first $700 billion of it with the rest being done out of view. The government assured everyone that the money for this and similar actions, such as big tax breaks, subsidies, and other corporate bailouts thereafter was going to make it possible for Americans to have more and better paying jobs. They called it trickle-down economics. Except there were no requirements that came attached to that money stipulating that it was to be used to improve the lives of American citizens. So, it was simply, “here are thousands of billions of dollars, do whatever you like with it. Just try not to fail anymore, okay?” (Collins, 2015) (Taibbi, 2013)

The whole process of handing all that taxpayer money over to the financial institutions and corporations rode multiple waves of lies and deceit through congress to be approved. Members of congress kept insisting that the money be used to benefit the people who had been harmed by the misdeeds of these banks at least by providing them loans with much of that money. It never happened. (Taibbi, 2013) I like to say that the only thing the American public got was trickle-down psychopathy.

The top financial companies and banks along with many of the largest corporations have reaped grand benefits courtesy of the American taxpayer and for the most part, none of it has gone to benefit those taxpayers. Government and business have developed a very close relationship at astronomical cost to the public. It certainly did not end with the bailouts. More recently our leaders have enabled tremendous tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations. (Johnson, 2018) (Reich, 2018) (Johnson-2, 2018)

Why would the government want to cut the taxes of the wealthy? It is obvious that the wealthy are who our leaders represent. How can the government afford to cut the taxes of the wealthy? They cut back on all the government services that benefit the rest of the people. We all know that government services that help poor people are just socialism and socialism is bad, right? Unfortunately, some of those government services benefit all, like those at the EPA or the FDA, for example. In any case, they reduce government to make up for the tax cuts.

The politicians that now run the government do so at the behest of the major corporations and the wealthiest citizens. Often, they have much in common with those they serve. “The idea is that elected officials care about the rich because they and their friends are all rich.” Legislators worried about the poor often must cut deals to satisfy the rich people who support their campaigns. Legislators worried about the rich basically never have to make these kinds of concessions. “Money, by creating this asymmetry, gets what it wants much more often.” (R.A., 2011)

It would be naïve to think that the only reason a politician makes their decisions is simply out of a sense of social standing or comradery. If their votes are only going to the benefit the top 10% and are usually against the majority, there’s not much chance it is out of their sense of justice or integrity. There must be something they are getting out of it.

You might like to think that people get started in politics because they want to fight for their ideals and make the world a better place for the disadvantaged. That may be the case for some of them. Maybe their motivations are not so altruistic? Perhaps it is the social status and popularity, the power and influence, all the perps and privileges, or the great pay and benefits. Maybe it is a lust for power, insatiable greed, a need for self-aggrandizement, or their need to confirm their sense of superiority to others. Maybe they are narcissistic, sociopathic, or even psychopathic. (Johnston, 2011) (Seltzer, 2011) (Mukherjee, 2014) Hopefully we don’t have too many narcissistic, sociopathic, control-freak, psychopaths in public office today, but some of them might make you wonder.

That culture of greed has been there all along and is embodied through the entanglement of corporate power and the state more than ever. Out of that culture came Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission then Super PACs were born. The Super PACs can accept unlimited amounts of money donated from any sources then use that money to advocate for or against politicians. They cannot donate that money directly to or coordinate their spending with the political campaigns of those politicians. They are also required to report their donors to the Federal Election Commission. (Politics-1, 2013) (Politics-2, 2018)

This also allowed non-profit, 501c corporations –or “dark money” organizations– to accept unlimited donations without having to reveal who made the donations. However, there are different versions of the 501c corporations –501c(4), 501c(5) and 501c(6)– that follow variations on the rules that affect who they can accept money from, how they can spend the money, and whether or not they must reveal the donors. (MacColl, 2011)

In spite of efforts by lawmakers to prevent political corruption by way of campaign contributions, it looks like the political parties have found ways to circumvent the law and use all the money they like in pretty much any way they like. Through a process that resembles money laundering, political parties are able to move money around from local and state levels to the national level resulting in many millions of dollars to become available for use by their national –or federal—level campaign committees. (Levine, 2017)

It may be that a donor cannot contribute much directly to a specific candidate, but candidates are team players in their respective parties and they can easily be aware of where that campaign money is coming from. The candidates are not legally obligated to do anything for the contributions made by supporters. If they were to openly trade their allegiance for money, no doubt they would be in trouble with the voters and they would likely be in trouble with the law.

Who does not believe that some campaign promises are made out of public view for the benefit of large campaign contributions? Public servants are prevented by law from taking money for political favors. However, I have to wonder how many politicians have provided political favors then, once out of office, had a nice, high paid job waiting for them with the recipient of those favors. I have read articles in the past and otherwise heard the stories of things like that. They may not be able to trade money, but they can certainly trade favors.

One common method is for senators and congressmen to become lobbyists. They do favors for the corporations while in office and are offered high paying jobs when they leave. If they do not become lobbyists, they place them in a corporate board of directors or some no-show position that pays anywhere from $300,000 to $1 million a year. Thanks to their work in office the relative corporation might have made and still be making many millions in additional profits. (Cooke, 2010) (Green, 2016) (Berman, 2018) The numbers vary from year to year, but there are approximately 11,000 lobbyists in Washington, DC that have spent close to $2 billion this year and have spent as much as $3.5 billion in recent years. (OpenSecrets.org-2, 2018)

It all looks like a lot of corruption to me, but someone must have thought that Super PACs were a good idea and there must be some sort of rationale that explains why Super PACs are a good thing. “Super PACs increase transparency” Because of the rules, Super PACs must reveal the information about who the donors are and how much they spent. At least we know who is doing the bribing, right? “They help level the playing field” It is an awful lot of money flowing in, but the money flows both ways such that each side, and we usually have just the two sides, has a fighting chance to put on a well-funded campaign. “Super PACs inform voters” They enable plenty of exposure for the candidates to discuss and argue the issues for the voters to see. “They remind us how corrupt the system really is” That’s not exactly a promotion for Super PACs, but maybe enough of us will wake up to the reality and be done with it. (Staff, 2012) (Smith, 2012)

All that money pays to put on a big show for us voters. The candidates get to fill auditoriums around the country so they can give their big campaign speeches. I don’t think they get those halls for free. They get to show up on TV either invited or by paying to get there. A lot of us watch TV and our favorite candidates will have paid millions to have advertisements there and have big debates. Then there are the big conventions where loads of people get to go and root for their champion and watch the process of choosing the candidates. All those things cost a lot of money and if not for all those donations, most of those things would never happen. The Super PAC money can only be used to promote the candidates and their parties and is not a form of bribery. One side having a lot more money than the other can appear to give them the advantage, but it does not ensure a win. (Speech, 2018)

I really must agree that there needs to be a way for things like that to happen. I do not agree with the way it is done now. How would I do it? I wonder how much money would be generated if all political donations were made to a single agency then divided up evenly among the political parties? Let’s say that the donations will be tax deductible such that the donors could get 50% of it back at the end of the year. There would be no limit. The motivation to donate would be inherently democratic because the donors would be contributing to a fair competition among, let’s say, as many as five political parties instead of two. Of course, it would be excellent public relations for the donors. Rather than promoting a candidate that will try to pass laws that are favors to corporations, they are simply donating to the political process of democracy. The more that goes in, the better the show and all the better chance their candidate will have the winning message. We would also have to kill the electoral college. More than likely we are going to need to have plenty of government money –our taxes— to cover it all. Chances are that after a couple of rounds of that, the government is going to have plenty of money to pay for political campaigns because the rich and the corporations will be paying much more in taxes.

I predict that the amount of campaign contributions would go down drastically. All those people with all that money do not want a democracy. The politicians do not want a democracy. The companies want the power to manipulate the government in their favor and the politicians want a whole lot more than a government paycheck. It is a culture of greed and it is corrupt.

 

References

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One thought on “Super PACs: A Culture of Greed in a Corrupt Political System | Robert Heston

  • Thanks alot for all of this important information that i had know knowledge of especially with the corruption thats going on in the political world* now its all making sense when that poet once said politics as usual*

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