In most election years, American voters tend to ignore the ongoing scandal of our campaign finance system, which encourages legalized bribery and domination by the wealthy. The reforming impulse comes later, as it did following the re-election of Richard Nixon 40 years ago, when the money-laundering, extortion, and payoffs of Watergate were revealed.
This year may yet prove an exception, as the Republican Party nominates a plutocratic capitalist for president and fills various war-chests with filthy lucre that could ultimately amount to a cool billion dollars. The surging flood of dark money from Wall Street bankers, casino moguls, insurance executives, and corporate malefactors of every sort is beginning to arouse suspicion among ordinary citizens – who have also started to wonder what Mitt Romney really did as a businessman and why he still won’t release his tax returns.
Before these populist themes achieve political traction, the Republicans must invent an argument explaining why their overwhelming financial advantage and corrupting secrecy don’t matter. Resentful of media scrutiny as always – especially when they have something awful to hide – the GOP pundits and politicians will insist that stories about their dubious benefactors (see Adelson, Sheldon and Simmons, Harold, among others) are biased because the Democrats are raising big money from big donors, too.
If you ask who the Republicans (including Adelson himself) are talking about, the name they always mention is George Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire financier who is indeed one of the richest men in the country and, by party affiliation and ideology, a Democrat. Slandered repeatedly by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh – who have done very little to advance free thought and free markets around the world compared with the Soros philanthropies – he has been transformed into a demonic figure on the far right strictly for partisan purposes.
To mention Adelson or Simmons or the Koch brothers or any of a dozen more billionaire donors to the GOP is to hear a Republican retort naming Soros. But there are enormous differences between what is happening now and what Soros and a few other very wealthy Democrats have done over the years.
First, there is the issue of secrecy. As his spokesman Michael Vachon notes, Soros “has always been open and transparent about his [political] contributions” and has “been subject to a huge amount of scrutiny by the media” ever since he made large donations in support of Senator John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid. Not so for the super-rich supporters of Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, who are spending millions to defeat Democratic Senate candidates and President Obama in the tax-exempt guise of a “social welfare” organization – without revealing their identities. Adelson may boast and the Koch brothers may flaunt — but we may never know exactly how much they and others of their ilk spend on this election.
Then there is the matter of what all these individuals – named and unnamed – expect in return for their generosity. Again, Vachon explains that the ideology of the men of great wealth who donate to the Republican Party benefits them personally, by reducing taxes and regulations on them. Such is not the case for Soros and other wealthy Democrats, who support policies and candidates they believe to be in the public interest even though that may increase their own taxes and strengthen regulation of their industries.
Finally, there is a simple and unmistakable imbalance that the handful of billionaires on the Democratic side are unlikely to rectify. So far, Soros has spent about $2 million in this cycle, writing checks of about a million dollars each to the SuperPAC that supports President Obama and to a progressive voter registration drive. Adelson alone has vowed to spend 50 times that amount to elect Mitt Romney — and perhaps as a matter of principle, Soros doesn’t seem inclined to match that promise.
So next time a Republican flack starts carping about Soros, remember that it’s just another phony talking point. Their team likes this tilted playing field just the way it is, which is why their stooges on the Supreme Court and in Congress have created a system that encourages unlimited influence for corporate wealth in an atmosphere of secrecy – and why they will block every Democratic initiative toward disclosure and balance. It’s the only way they can elect an unpopular candidate whose policies repel most Americans.