By Mary deWolf
Government overreach. Government spying. Government regulations. We can argue about our government’s role until we collapse, but none of it will matter if we don’t deal with the “dark money” that corrupts the selection of our government.
We pretend that we are a representative democracy and we chose those who represent us. The ugly truth is that the average American citizen’s influence over that choice is evaporating rapidly. The money that funds our candidates and elections is now, more than ever, coming from hidden sources with unrevealed agendas.
Here’s how it works. Thanks to the Citizen’s United Supreme Court ruling corporations and wealthy individuals now give unlimited amounts of money to organizations that can then funnel it to election campaigns without disclosing the source and purpose of the original donation.
Since the Citizen’s United decision, donor disclosure has fallen from over 90 percent to barely 50 percent. The deceptive practice taints elections at all levels. In state campaigns, concealed funding often comes from outside the state. In Wisconsin, $45 million was spent to save Governor Scott Walker from recall (compared to $15 million spent by his opponents). The majority came from donors outside of Wisconsin.
Dark money practices combines with the ability of state governments to draw voting district lines favoring one party over another undermine our democratic ideals. Moreover, party primary systems insure that there is little or no opportunity for voters to determine candidate choices. By the time the voters can participate the only options are special-interest candidates that have been staked by dark money and promoted by the party establishment to repay the contributors.
While both parties are guilty participants, over two thirds of dark money ends up in the hands of Republicans. The Republican Party PAC provided $132,000,000 in dark money to its candidates in 2010. The Democratic Party is at a disadvantage as there is less money available among its less-wealthy members.
America is deteriorating from a nation of equal opportunity for all to flourish into a country under the dictatorship of the rich, a group dwindling in number but growing in wealth and influence.
America established a proud tradition of openly discussing fundamental issues including the role of central government. We have considered this important question since the days of Jefferson and Adams. What has changed is that we no longer know who is participating in the debate and what their motives are.
Americans are ready for the light. Sixty percent disagree with the Citizen’s United decision and 80 percent say there is too much money in politics. Few elected officials are willing to challenge the system on which they rely to win elections. It will be up to us.
Every American can learn about dark money, the party system and the stranglehold on our choking democracy. Connect with organizations like the Center for Responsive Politics, Sunlight Foundation, National Institute for Money in State Politics, and Project on Government Oversight. Read the works of concerned Americans including Mickey Edward’s (a former Republican congressman) "The Parties Versus the People" or Thomas Frank’s "Pity the Billionaire."
They say it’s darkest before the dawn. Thirty years ago Ronald Reagan promised “morning in America.” Daybreak is long overdue.