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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Washington (AFP) – Huge individual donations, aggressive party spending and untraceable “dark money” are flooding this year’s mid-term campaigns, fueling concerns that the financial impact on America’s congressional elections is spiraling out of control.

Take Alaska. The far-western state is remote and its few residents fiercely independent.

Yet an eye-popping $30 million has already been spent in the state’s race between incumbent Senator Mark Begich and challenger Dan Sullivan, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign-money tracker.

That figure may well double before voters troop to polls November 4, experts warn, sending costs of that campaign north of $120 per eligible voter.

And Alaska is merely the cycle’s seventh costliest race, well behind North Carolina where $46 million has already been spent on the Senate battle there.

All signs point to this midterm campaign as being the priciest ever, surpassing the estimated $3.6 billion spent on the 2010 midterms and the $3.7 billion of 2012.

Republicans are going all out with their bid to retake the Senate, but President Barack Obama’s Democrats are not giving up without a massive financial fight.

With 39 days before the election, Democrats, normally first to bemoan the astronomical amounts of cash in politics, have actually seen their party committees outraise Republican counterparts, reports to the Federal Election Commission show.

Corporations are also ramping up electoral giving, funneling millions in efforts that help their preferred candidates.

So are billionaires like Charles and David Koch, conservative industrialists whom Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has repeatedly accused of attempting to “buy our democracy.”

But Democrats are turning to mega-donors as well. Liberal former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer in August wrote a $15 million check to his own super PAC, NextGen Climate Action.

Unlike political parties, such groups can contribute unlimited funds towards a political agenda, but they can not coordinate directly with campaigns or contribute to candidates.

And some political non-profits are not required to disclose their donors or provide detailed reports of their finances, leading to unknown amounts of so-called dark money swept into campaign efforts.

“It’s gone completely haywire,” Joe Trippi, a top Democratic strategist credited with helping pioneer online campaigning, told AFP.

Trippi has worked on several presidential campaigns and served as Howard Dean’s campaign manager a decade ago when he revolutionized online politicking.

“I remember those really inspiring days of 2003 and look at where we are in 2014, and it’s a monster,” he added. “The whole thing is not anything I thought it would be.”

The landscape was fundamentally altered in 2010 by a key Supreme Court decision which essentially removed the ceiling to how much corporations, unions or individuals can inject into U.S. elections.

Such deregulation proved to be a godsend to the Kochs, whose vast political network was estimated to have spent a staggering $400 million in a failed bid to block Obama’s 2012 re-election.

Their advocacy group Americans For Prosperity has already spent some $50 million this year in support of Republican candidates, according to Politico, which quoted a confidential March memo to donors saying the group, which does not disclose its donors, plans a $125 million spending spree.

One particularly visible effect of this bipartisan funding tsunami is on TV advertising. Within 60 days of an election, candidates take priority over traditional advertisers broadcasting on local airwaves.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, 33,000 political TV ads aired September 16-22 in markets of the nine most competitive Senate races.

Who is funding the ads is not often clear. One third of the spots that aired from August 29 to September 11 were paid for by groups that do not disclose their donors, Wesleyan Media Project said in its analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data.

Lawmakers made clear this month that election season was no time to tinker with campaign finance reformm, as Senate Republicans blocked efforts to limit financial influence of corporations and wealthy Americans on elections.

Trippi said White House contenders can glean an important lesson: “Anyone thinking about running for president in 2016 should consider speed-dating billionaires.”

AFP Photo/Spencer Platt

Actor as Donald Trump in Russia Today video ad

Screenshot from RT's 'Trump is here to make RT Great Again'

Russia Today, the network known in this country as RT, has produced a new "deep fake" video that portrays Donald Trump in post-presidential mode as an anchor for the Kremlin outlet. Using snippets of Trump's own voice and an actor in an outlandish blond wig, the ad suggests broadly that the US president is indeed a wholly owned puppet of Vladimir Putin– as he has so often given us reason to suspect.

"They're very nice. I make a lot of money with them," says the actor in Trump's own voice. "They pay me millions and hundreds of millions."

But when American journalists described the video as "disturbing," RT retorted that their aim wasn't to mock Trump, but his critics and every American who objects to the Russian manipulations that helped bring him to power.

As an ad for RT the video is amusing, but the network's description of it is just another lie. Putin's propagandists are again trolling Trump and America, as they've done many times over the past few years –- and this should be taken as a warning of what they're doing as Election Day approaches.

The Lincoln Project aptly observed that the Russians "said the quiet part out loud" this time, (Which is a bad habit they share with Trump.)