Frustrating fair elections

Frustrating fair elections

November 10th, 2012 in Opinion Times

Whatever Americans think about the outcome of Tuesday's presidential and congressional elections, voters cannot be happy about the campaign costs, nor about the narrow sources that control that money and the political influence it bestows.

Neither can they honestly believe that Americans' fundamental right to vote is held in higher regard than partisan interests in winning an election. The math on both hews decidedly and unfairly to Republicans' benefit, even though it failed to win them the success they expected this week.

Campaign spending soars

Spending for the presidential and congressional campaigns was close to $6 billion through mid-October for this election cycle, according to research by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. And the spending in the last three weeks pushed the total well above the $6 billion mark.

More than a third of that went to the presidential election alone. The Center's preliminary tallies show that Republicans raised and spent more money than Democrats, and that their money came from fewer but richer donors, whether from individuals or corporations, than did the contributions for, or favoring, Democrats.

Republicans, for example, benefited vastly more than Democrats in Tuesday's elections from outside spending, in favor of or against candidates, by superPACs and their super-rich donors, and by so-called "social welfare" nonprofit entities that operate under 501(c)(4) charters. Indeed, it is alarming that so many of the "social welfare" 501(c)(4) entities seem to exist solely for partisan political purposes and are allowed to hide the identity of their donors. This abuse of federal standards for nonprofit entities begs a thorough IRS and Justice Department investigation.

President Obama's official campaign raised $632 million -- a third of it from small donors (less than $200) -- and $924 million in all when the Democratic National Committee's share is included. Mitt Romney's official campaign generated $389 million -- mostly from large donors; just 18 percent came from small donors -- and stood at $758 million when the National Republican Committee's funding is included.

Romney's boost

The additional $840 million deluge in outside spending by superPACs and 501(c)(4) entities hugely favored Romney by a 2-to-1 margin, giving Romney's campaign a financial advantage overall in the presidential race. That outside spending is allowed under the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, which gave ultra-rich individuals and corporations free rein to spend infinitely more than the individual $2,400 limit per-campaign-cycle per donor allowed for donations subject to federal campaign finance rules.

With that boost, the Romney's presidential campaign team ended up with $1.28 billion, vs. the Obama team's $931 million. It's noteworthy that the top five contributors to Romney's effort turned out to be five of Wall Street's biggest banks.

All told, outside spending by super-rich donors to both presidential and congressional elections totaled more than $1 billion, triple the amount in 2010 elections. Among the biggest spenders was billionaire casino czar Sheldon Adelson and his family, who gave $54 million by mid-October to Republican super-PACs to head off re-election of Obama, and to help eight other right-wing candidates -- all of whom last their election bids.

Others rich donors included Texas businessmen Harold Simmons, who contributed $26.9 million to superPACS backing Romney and other GOP candidates, and Joe Ricketts, whose $21 million gift favored Romney and Republicans in tight senatorial contests in Virginia and Florida. The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, reportedly led an effort to funnel $400 million for conservatives through the anonymous backdoor provided by right-wing 501(c)(4) "social welfare" groups.

Real fraud: Voter suppression

Republicans spread their pretense that strict voter ID cards were necessary to stem virtually non-existent vote fraud. But it was their own use of strict new voter ID laws to suppress Democratic turnout that was, again, the real vote fraud. Republican governors and GOP-controlled legislatures outnumber Democratically controlled states by about a 3-to-2 margin. And it is mainly the Republican-controlled states, including Tennessee, that mandated onerous photo-ID voter laws to keep the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and racial and student minorities -- all of which tend to vote Democratic -- from casting a ballot.

Republican-controlled state governments also continued to apply other unethical or illegal tactics to suppress Democratic voters in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, among others. Early voting days and hours were sharply shortened. Many Democratic-leaning precincts were given far less than their fair share of ballot machines and provisional ballots, a GOP tactic to generate hours-long wait lines in order to discourage voters from even trying to vote. Even so, many voters in Ohio and Florida defied those tactics by waiting four to six or eight hours to vote -- forcing precincts to stay open well after midnight.

In Pennsylvania, ad-hoc groups of Republicans went down waiting voter lines demanding to see photo-IDs, and telling voters such IDs were required -- even though a recent court ruling forbid use of the state's new photo-ID law until after the November election and further legal consideration. And, of course, electronic ballot machines that switched peoples' votes to the opposing presidential candidate turned up, as feared, in Ohio.

If cheating to distort the outcome of elections constitutes voter fraud -- and indeed it does -- Republicans were again the main vote-fraud practitioners. Lamentably, it is patently clear that it's more important to Republicans to win at any costs, than to honor the nation's fundamental right for all Americans to vote. The welcome counterpoint to the attempts by Republicans to bury Democrats through big spending, or by suppressing their votes, is that gutsy Democrats saw through the big money advertising and waded through the voter suppression obstacles, and achieved a huge and well-deserved victory.