The Big Money Men Buy a Voice in American Politics
THE video begins like this: wispy clouds drift over the great American outdoors. Cranes build an office block. Trucks roar down the highway. ”Capitalism made America great,” says a gravelly voice. ”The free market. Hard work. The building blocks of the American dream.” A family walks through a wheat field, where the Stars and Stripes waves briskly. ”But in the wrong hands, those dreams can turn into nightmares.” And storm clouds gather over the wheat field …
The attack ad goes on to paint Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as a corporate raider of the worst ilk, making his millions through stripping assets and staff from honest American businesses. It was exquisitely timed to upset Romney, as rival Republican Newt Gingrich accelerated his run towards his South Carolina primary win on January 21.
But Gingrich’s name was not mentioned, nor did he endorse the ad (or later accept responsibility for its errors and exaggerations). It was paid for by a group called Winning Our Future.
As the Republican primaries draw to a close, it is becoming clear that this year’s fight for the White House will be an all-guns-blazing naval battle on a heaving sea of cash. But much of that money is neither being given to, nor spent by, the candidates or their campaigns. Instead, America’s richest businessmen and their corporations seem to be engaged in a bidding war to elect the next leader of the free world. And some are laying the blame on America’s fervent dedication to the principle of free speech.
Winning Our Future is a super PAC (short for political action committee). These organisations, a new feature of the US political landscape, can accept unlimited contributions towards electioneering, as long as they are not officially part of a candidate’s campaign. Critics warn they are a massive vote-buying scheme that potentially benefits big business at the expense of the majority of voters, distorting the democratic process.
Election watchers also warn of the potential for corruption amid the loosest campaign finance laws since Watergate. ”It is as inevitable as the sun will come up tomorrow, there will be scandals,” Senator John McCain told This American Life last week. ”There’s too much money washing around the political arena today.”