Paying Attention

April 27, 2012
Voting: what a waste of time. Filling in a circle on a ballot hardly makes a winner for an election. There are so many more factors, and a decision made by the average person for whom to run the county, state, or country is minor. It’s not like we really know who runs, anyway, and for what they really stand. All they’re going to do is sit in D.C. or sit on busses to deliver stupid speeches. If you feel this careless toward voting, I promise you that you are still in control. As long as you know how to evade sleazy election factors, your vote will always count. Step one: learn how politicians make you pay attention.

The process of influencing people to vote for someone is called campaigning. The reason is innocent: to inform and persuade people that a candidate is worthy of the position he or she desires. American citizens are reminded yearly how obnoxious campaigns can be when mailboxes are stuffed with brochures and commercial breaks are full of advertisements blatantly bashing other candidates and begging for money. Millions of dollars are spent per state during election season to convince the populace for whom to vote. But certainly candidates do not just get their money from every-day donations from their own pocket. They have to collect their accumulative millions from something bigger. Lately, the most controversial part of the campaign process has been the collection of money from corporations.

In January 2008, an organization called Citizens United sued the Federal Election Commission for being prohibited to run a film criticizing Senator Hillary Clinton. The law restricting this right is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, in which corporations and unions are restricted from using their funds and profits to make “independent expenditures for speech” (Citizen), or speak out against the government. The law prohibited them from running the film. Citizens United won the law suit based on its right to freedom of speech. The Supreme Court claimed in its ruling that the “prohibition on corporate independent expenditures is an outright ban on speech, backed by criminal sanctions” (Citizens). In essence, the justices’ argument was that money plays a large part in democracy; people who own corporations should be allowed to hand over money to politicians. The Republican Party has had the most benefit from this five-to-four ruling, while President Obama rebutted that large businesses giving endorsements would cause “unlimited special-interest money” (“Super Democracy”).

However, corporations still cannot directly donate to a candidate. If they could, we would probably see ads like “Mitt Romney, brought to you by Wal-Mart” on ballots, and the White House’s name would be changed every four to eight years: “The Exxon Mobil Presidential Living Quarters.” Wouldn’t that be lovely? With its Citizens United vs. FEC ruling, the Supreme Court allowed corporations to donate to separate funds that support candidates. These funds are called political action committees, or PACs. Essentially, PACs are used by politicians and organizations to harvest money to support candidates and causes (Federal Election Commission). Certain PACs can raise unlimited numbers of dollars from individuals, corporations, or unions. The catch is that whoever runs the PAC cannot directly discuss with a candidate what to do with its money. However, most major PACs and candidates devise slick plans to evade this rule. Former candidate John Hunstman’s father donated $2,222,040 to Our Destiny PAC, which supported Hunstman while he was running (ProPublica). Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign attorney is currently in charge of the richest PAC to date, Restoring Our Future. ProPublica, a journalistic database that tracks that keeps PACs’ income and usage, has reported that a revolting $116,070,264 have been donated to these fundraising committees as of March 19, 2012.

Last February, after the Federal Election Commission ordered PACs to release their income to the public, USA Today reported that 25 percent of the funding for PACs came from only five people and their businesses. The majority of the donations were to PACs supporting potential Republican nominations. The largest donations came from Harold Simmons, founder of Contran, who gave approximately 12 million of his company’s dollars to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads PAC, along with over two more million dollars dispersed amongst other Republican-supporting PACs (USA Today).

The majority of this money is used for advertisements attacking other candidates. ProPublica’s PAC-tracker reports that the only time money is used to support a candidate is if they are staying at hotels for a night and eating out. Otherwise, millions of dollars are spent on phone calls and commercials candidates’ opponents. On March 20, 2012, Illinois held its primary election. Up to the day before the election, $2,574,411 were poured into the state. Ninety-nine percent of that money was used by Restoring Our Future, the rich pro-Romney PAC. Of course, one hundred percent of that money was used on anti-Rick Santorum propaganda (ProPublica).

Still not convinced that this affects you? Who cares that big businesses pass money to candidates; it’s their money. But let’s put the Supreme Court’s decision, current donations, and popular use of money into perspective:

The calendar inches toward a typical November election. Your choices to fill a congressional seat are a woman who was raised by a very wealthy family and an older, “average Joe” kind of man. The wealthy woman’s dad owned multiple stores of a popular coffee company that you happen to work for, and has become close friends with the CEO of his company over the years. His daughter is an obnoxious, loud, all-talk-no-walk kind of politician. You are skeptical of what few opinions she has. However, you do not know that the CEO of your business donates millions of dollars to a PAC supporting this airhead. The profits that could be reinvested in your shop that needs new equipment or to workers who need better health benefits are, instead, slid over to someone who does not even need a penny. The PAC now runs advertisements bashing the older gentleman running for office. You would like to know more about him, but because he has raised fewer funds, he cannot express what he has to say as widely or as loudly through media outlets as the woman. Election Day arrives, and you must make a decision. Even though you are skeptical of the female candidate, and money to help you was spent otherwise, you still must choose. And because she was louder and you didn’t hear anything negative about her, you are stuck voting for the lesser-quality candidate. Someone else’s wealth made your choice.

Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnet, donated 10 million dollars to Winning Our Future, who sponsors Newt Gingrich (USA Today). Adelson told Forbes magazine, “I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections, but as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it.” Adelson’s statement proves that business owners and CEOs and corporations know exactly what they are doing: helping their political friends run the nation, even if they must “buy” the election. Middle America is suffering from unemployment and poverty while many of the businesses they could be working for throw money at people who already have plenty. If we want to keep the intention and spirit of voting, we must not let the wealthy make our choices. Voting can remain a positive, democratic process if we keep noticing how politicians make us pay attention. Researching websites such as ProPublica.org will allow you to uncover who is trying to purchase your opinion. When you hear advertisements supporting or contending candidates, do not be duped into thinking that is entirely the individual’s fund raising and originality, but rather, another rich strangers’. Just because money talks does not mean you have to listen.





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