Two articles have caught my attention this week. One appeared in The New York Times yesterday and dealt mainly with spending by the so-called "social welfare" groups organized under Section 501(c)4 of the tax code. The other one is by Eric Alterman and deals with campaign spending and biased reporting on the elections and appears in The Nation this week.
The Times' article details some corporate political spending by American Electric Power, Aetna, Prudential Financial, Dow Chemical, Merck, the Chamber of Commerce and others. It echoes the theme---repeated on NPR and in other news sources---that the Republicans have to get out large corporate donations and pull out a conservative white vote in order to win the elections in November. The Democrats have a harder hill to climb with less money and must rely on a surge by Blacks, Latinos, women and progressive whites. Alterman reminds readers that "nobody at all has given the Democrats a single eight-figure contribution" while the Adelsons alone gave the Republicans $35 million.
This explains the nationwide effort by Republican forces to disenfranchise people of color and women en masse. Alterman's article also exposes how the establishment media is conspiring to confuse the issues here and make the elections and funding struggles appear as equal contests, which they obviously are not. All of that is true, but more must be said.
According to The Times piece, Aetna gave at least $3 million last year to the American Action Network, gently described in The Times as a "Republican-leaning nonprofit." This Network has spent millions attacking politicians who have supported the President's health care plan. The news here is that Aetna played both sides of the street by supposedly supporting the health care plan while working hard against politicians who backed it. We can assume that they had other corporate helpers and cohorts in their efforts. We can't denounce the health care plan as "corporate-backed" and leave it at that since the corporations which appear to be backing the bill and President Obama are clearly false friends or backers. Aetna's contributions were discovered accidentally. We need to be back on track as the strongest fighters for national health care.
Other large corporate contributions pass through the hands of the US Chamber of Commerce, Crossroads and Koch Industries front groups. Besides being used to get Romney and other Republicans elected, much of the money is used to bash unions and win limits on liability lawsuits. The Times' article describes such contributions without critical analysis and as being used to promote "free markets and religious freedom" and quotes the incorporation papers of the Founding Fund as describing part of its mission as "the narrowing of the scope and reach of the federal government." American Electric Power is a major contributor to this Fund.
Four points emerge here. One is that there are real differences between the two parties when it comes to their voting bases and funding sources. We can't say that both parties represent capitalism, or at lerast the same wings of capital, and leave it at that. This is one of the Big Lies of this election year spun by the Republicans in the media and Alterman proves the point. The second point is that all of this money passing through the 501(c)4 "social welfare" groups and being used to threaten democracy has a sleaze factor attached to it. It can be used to plant false stories in the media, buy leaders and leadership, hire provocateurs and disorient progressive forces. This may indeed be happening before us. The third point is that overturning Citizens United and the entire Move To Amend struggle does not go far enough given the shadowy nature of the "social welfare" front groups and their obvious push to drive wedges between people of color and other forces. Something much greater is at stake here than campaign finance reform. The final point is that we can point to Big Pharma, the energy sector corporations and sections of the financial sector as clear class enemies and enemies of democracy. One of our tasks between now and November must be casting the election as part of a larger democratic and class struggle aimed very much against these hardcore undemocratic and bourgeois forces and winning progressives to that point of view.