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Elections Sun Oct 17 2010
Holding signs with slogans such as "RepubliCorp: we buy democracy, one race at a time," members of MoveOn from Chicago and the northern suburbs held a press conference on Friday, Oct. 15 at the Northbrook office of Congressman Mark Kirk, who is also a candidate for U.S. Senate, to draw attention to a report entitled Buying Democracy: The impact of corporate and right-wing front groups on elections in llinois. The report's findings reinforce what many Americans have become aware of in recent weeks, namely, that an unprecedented flood of shadowy cash is making its way into the 2010 election. The northern Illinois group held their presentation in coordination with other MoveOn efforts taking place in all 50 states.
The influx of corporate cash was predicted by critics of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which expanded on previous corporate-speech cases by equating corporations with people, and raw spending with speech, and ruling that corporations, including for-profit behemoths, had a right to spend unlimited amounts on elections, including federal elections where their participation had previously been barred. The MoveOn report, citing to dozens of news reports and studies, shows that entities aligned with right-wing causes and candidates planned to spend up to $400 million on this election, and that the overwhelming majority of front-group cash being spent on the federal elections is being used to attack Democratic candidates and benefit Republicans.
If you feel like there's more TV political assault than ever, you're not imagining it. Nationwide, TV spending has doubled compared to the 2006 mid-term elections. However, much of this is not coming from the candidates or parties, but from almost unknown third-party groups. In Illinois, the report states that two groups alone, including American Crossroads, had already spent nearly $1.3 million trying to defeat the Democratic Senate nominee, state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, and thus elect Kirk. American Crossroads is headed by former Bush/GOP operative and strategist Karl Rove and is bankrolled largely by wealthy and corporate donors. In U.S. Senate races nationwide, conservative and right-wing groups are outspending liberal counterparts by a 9 to 1 ratio.
The spending is not only unprecedented in volume, and tilting hard to the right, but breaking records for how much is coming from undisclosed sources. Whereas in 2006 over 90% of all contributors were disclosed by the groups running the ads, that figure has fallen to 37% in the current election. Corporations and billionaires can underwrite the most vicious operatives and media smears by funneling funds through nonprofit groups or third-party entities, thus staging hit-and-run attacks that are not only enormously well-funded, but anonymous.
Following the press conference, the activists presented a copy of the report to staffers for Kirk, asking that the congressman support campaign finance reform, efforts to overturn Citizens United, and disavow the activities and support of groups such as American Crossroads. Larry Goldberg, head of the 9th Congressional District Council, said that the issues go beyond any one candidate or party: "We're very concerned about democracy itself."
MoveOn.org, which claims 5 million members nationwide, operates both a political arm and a 501(c)(4) organization, MoveOn.org Civic action, which primarily focuses on nonpartisan education and advocacy on important national issues. The political arm has taken an increasingly aggressive stance against Kirk, naming Alexi Giannoulias one of its "Progressive Heroes" and creating short video spots tying Kirk to corporate money.
Update 10/19/2010: Lest anyone think otherwise, I have supported MoveOn from time to time with small contributions of money and time, as I have many other groups and causes, and have participated in the planning of local events (but not this one). I may do so again. I attended the above event not as a journalist but as a private citizen, and posted it because the subject matter is important. This entry is, however, my own, not MoveOn's.