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I strongly encourage you to checkout Thomas Ferguson's (et al) latest post on Alternet. It's the closest thing I've read to a factual summary of the state of electoral politics in the U.S. (circa 2012). It’s loaded with statistical data and graphics; but it's still very easy to read. And, IMHO, it's an absolute must-read for all interested in the current, inconvenient reality of our country’s supposed “two-party system.” As economist Joseph Stiglitz has told us, time and time again: “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%."

Revealed: Why the Pundits Are Wrong About Big Money and the 2012 Elections

Thomas Ferguson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston,
Paul Jorgensen, Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of Texas, and
Jie Chen, University Statistician at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
December 20, 2012

Analysts of American elections routinely confuse the voice of the people with the sound of money  talking. Habitual modes of thought and long standing incentives to reaffirm the democratic faith encourage grasping at straws. Pundits become hopeful that big money doesn’t matter as much as they feared, and that democracy is alive and well.

In the Spring of 2012, however, as Mitt Romney’s Super Pacs carpet bombed the rest of the Republican field into oblivion, falling into that trap became much harder. It was obvious that a handful of multimillionaires were playing pivotal roles in the election. Despite some talk about small donors in President Obama’s campaign, the general election enhanced the impression that American politics was sliding into a new and sinister phase…

Our conclusion is that there is nothing paradoxical about the Republican loss. One  campaign funded largely by the super-rich lost to another just about as affluently funded.

On another occasion we will pursue the question of what this might mean for the future. For now we remind readers that the dynamics of campaigns funded mostly by major investors are quite different  than the campaigns imagined by traditional democratic theory: “Big Money’s most significant impact on politics is certainly not to deliver elections to the highest bidders. Instead it is to cement parties, candidates, and campaigns into the narrow range of issues that are acceptable to big donors. The basis of the “Golden Rule” in politics derives from the simple fact that running for major office in the U.S. is fabulously expensive.  In the absence of large scale social movements, only political positions that can be financed can be presented to voters. On issues on which all major investors agree (think of the now famous 1 percent), no party competition at all takes place, even if everyone knows that heavy majorities of voters want something else.” (Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen, AlterNet).

So when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who is now in charge of the talks on the fiscal cliff for the White House, tells reporters  that the administration would like to include Social Security in the negotiations, pay attention.

(Bold type is diarist’s emphasis.)

A couple of Ferguson’s more important books: “Right Turn: The Decline of the Democrats and the Future of American Politics,” and “Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems.”

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Comment Preferences

  •  That's a cheery read at this time of morning. (12+ / 0-)

    Corporate entities and the haves battling for control of the public coffers and power, with voters as the pawns being pushed around the board. My biggest question is: what do those supporting the blue side hope to gain that the red side wouldn't supply in equal or better measure?

    The only thing I can think of is that they need to keep the machine running smoothly to ensure a continuous flow of money. Moving too fast might trigger a backlash, like the current anxiety over SS and Medicare. It might even lead to an Occupy movement that could spill over into their little worlds and threaten their property and profits. Given that 2/3 of the economy depends on consumer spending, it's critical that consumers never catch on that the water is slowly coming to a boil.  

    From the Geithner link.

    So Americans can approach retirement with dignity and with the confidence they can retire with a modest guaranteed benefit.
    How modest would that be, I wonder.

    "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." Richard K. Morgan

    by sceptical observer on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 01:59:36 AM PST

  •  Of course money matters. That's why we use it to (5+ / 0-)

    mediate transactions and facilitate communications. Money is made to be spent, just as script was invented to be written and read.
    The 2012 election represented a mini-stimulus. Lots of enterprises saw more profits because the voters in their states were entertained and some sections of the country were disdained.  But, at least, a couple of billion moved quickly from hand to hand and that's an improvement from the generally sluggish trend.

    When money lingers in fat cat accounts or bank vaults, regular folk have less chance of getting a cut.  So, even though the quantity of money in circulation keeps increasing, ordinary folk have less and less. The Congress threatening to spend even less just worsens the situation. Indeed, if we call what the Congress is up to rationing, then the resulting hoarding is a well known response and we can expect people who spend as they should to have even less to spend.

    Yes, money matters, but not as these analysts seem to think. And yes, there is corruption, but not where the analysts think. You see, Congress is the original source of U.S. currency. The corruption lies in Congress handing out money to the banks so the financial engineers can collect a cut of every dollar spent. And, when election day comes around, the people that got money see that it gets spent to re-elect their friends in high places. Meanwhile, in part to obscure how the scam works and who's directing it, legislative bodies at all levels pass "laws" to keep the electorate off kilter. They threaten to make good behavior illegal and bad behavior good; not capriciously, but as a matter of course. And this particular endeavor, declaring good evil and vice versa, is a bi-partisan endeavor. Because, you see, since the advent of universal suffrage, the large and growing electorate is the enemy. It is the electorate which threatens the hegemony of the cadres of petty potentates who presume to rule, rather than serve.

    Money and the law are being used in tandem to subordinate the people to the will of their representatives, because, as the movie about the 13th Amendment ("Lincoln") makes clear, democracy and equallity and liberty were only aspirations--in the beginning and still continuing on. The Republican party has filled up with people who want to rule and be ruled because they don't want to be told what to do.
    That seems contradictory, but the nice thing about rulers is that they can be ignored by the endemically unrully. When dictators are about, then people who can't restrain themselves can be as unrully as they want unless and until they get caught. Democracy presumes a level of self-control that some people just don't have.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 03:07:31 AM PST

  •  It seems like you're ignoring the fact that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    isabelle hayes

    small donors are playing an increasingly larger role in elections(at least for Dems) in this day and age of internet-based fundraising.

    Until Citizens United is overturned, it seems like bumping up the amount of small donations is the best way to stave off the influence of Big Business donors.

    When candidates don't necessarily need the big buck donors, they are much less susceptible to corruption.

    "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

    by Lawrence on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 03:53:52 AM PST

  •  We have to find new ways (4+ / 0-)

    to run good campaigns for primary challengers, etc. without requiring obscene amounts of money, or ways to influence without obscene amounts of money.

    Of course that doesn't mean that we don't have to work on campaign finance reform too.  But that might take a long time and with a Supreme Court who upholds Citizens United and with lawmakers who would have to enact laws that affect themselves in ways the don't want, I think we need a two-pronged approach.

    "Justice is a commodity"

    by joanneleon on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 04:05:26 AM PST

  •  Obama kept saying - we all have to give some... (7+ / 0-)

    Well, no we don't.  We didn't get any, and I'm not giving any.   It was their party.  They trashed the hotel room, and I'm not paying their bill with my money.  

    There's a ton of money out "up" there - let him go get it.  

    What we need is a Democrat in the White House.

    by dkmich on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 04:14:55 AM PST

  •  The most transparent administration (10+ / 0-)

    evah... but wait, what happened here?

    Though the FEC has posted summary reports for the campaigns, it has inexplicably not updated the roster of individual donors to the President’s campaign, even though campaigns file these reports electronically. But we can use the data that are on file, covering the period through mid-October, to make an estimate that past experience suggests will change only slightly.
    Article also says that small donors were only 1% of his campaign money.

    And the most disgusting thing, imho, is that they both spent not a billion dollars, but much more than that -- both campaigns spent a billion and a half and there was no big gap.  They are both bought and paid for.

    The huge surge of money pouring into Obama's campaign during the final weeks so that it would not be reported until after the election is something I expected to happen and commented on many times to friends of mine.  I figured the campaign would arrange for the Wall St money to come in at the last minute and perhaps the energy/oil&gas industry.  But now the list of contributors is mysteriously not available for one campaign!  Wonder how that happened. Hopefully that will be fixed sooner rather than later.  The campaign did  say that all of their donors to the super PAC would be revealed, right?

    "Justice is a commodity"

    by joanneleon on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 04:41:08 AM PST

  •  Both campaigns spent a billion and a half (6+ / 0-)

    each.  So there was no huge gap in spending between them.

    The billion dollar estimates, as outrageous as that kind of spending is, were way low.

    Milking people who really can't afford to send money to Obama's campaign -- again it wasn't because he needed that small donor money.  It was just so the public could be deceived into thinking that it was a campaign largely funded by the little guy.  Personally, I always thought that was craven.  I know of people who went into debt giving to his campaign because they so fiercely believed that he needed their money and were so dedicated to him.  Meanwhile, the only purpose of the small donor money was to provide cover for the real funding of the campaign by the 1%.

    And then they tried to do the same thing again in 2012.  I got emails constantly asking for money. I've never in my life gotten hounded more by a campaign than by his.  And it went on for months and months and months.

    These numbers inevitably raise the question whether the Obama campaign’s 2012 claims to be fueled by small donations might be as  hollow  as its 2008 claims turned out to be.

    "Justice is a commodity"

    by joanneleon on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 04:48:04 AM PST

  •  Bob (5+ / 0-)

    thanks for bringing attention to this article.  I'm not sure how much stock I put into their analysis about the House elections because I don't see them factoring incumbency into the analysis, and in general I think it's really hard to draw broad assumptions about House elections.

    One thing struck me though while looking at the charts -- now you can see why Pelosi can say with confidence that she has a lot of votes for cutting Social Security.  If the party leadership can convince House members that nothing else matters but campaign money, that they can vote on whatever bills they like and they will still get reelected if they get enough campaign money -- well then you can see why they'd vote for such wildly unpopular things.  You can see why they'd do what the party bosses tell them to do.  If they don't vote how the party bosses tell them to vote, no campaign money for you!

    Anyway the real reason I posted this comment before I got distracted there was to ask a question.  Do campaigns have to account for the monetary value of things that the taxpayer provides?  For instance, the cost of traveling on Air Force One for campaign events, hotels, etc. -- is that money accounted for in Obama's $1.45 billion dollar total?

    To be clear, I am not saying he should not be allowed to use these things that presidents use. Obviously he has to travel and needs security.  I just wonder what the real amount of money was spent for reelection.

    "Justice is a commodity"

    by joanneleon on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 04:55:36 AM PST

    •  Hey, Joanne... (6+ / 0-)

      ...the basic answer is there are volumes of legal guidelines (okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration) on this. But, the security of a sitting President (also any former President, for that matter), and the requirements of the job inherently include taxpayer cost, 24/7/365. That being said, the FEC guidelines (and legal requirements from other federal agencies and general law) are extensive as far as this issue's concerned.

      In any given House election/re-election cycle, the incumbency of a candidate running for re-election means they have somewhere between a 90% and 98% chance of winning, according to historical statistics. It is said that members of the House spend every day running for re-election, in large part due to their brief two-year term. Personally, I'm in favor of changing the terms of members of the House to four years, to help change this reality.

      And, last but not least, it's been noted by many that we've now entered the age of PERMANENT campaigning, especially at the federal level, and in large part due to Citizens United, lax campaign finance laws that encourage the raising of tons of cash from practically anyone, and the proliferation of PAC's, in general. If you've been watching any significant amounts of TV over the past seven or eight weeks, you'll notice that the issues-related ads never stopped after the first week of November!

      It's really pathetic, isn't it?

      "I always thought if you worked hard enough and tried hard enough, things would work out. I was wrong." --Katharine Graham

      by bobswern on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 05:51:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A reality check of the first order. nt (5+ / 0-)

    You can tell Monopoly is an old game because there's a luxury tax and rich people can go to jail.

    by Simian on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 05:08:01 AM PST

  •  It's really going to be fun when our (4+ / 0-)

    two party system will be the Koch Brothers and Big Oil Party will be at odds with the Walton and Big Bank Party.  The rest of us will be in the grandstands cheering them on.

  •  elections are the duopoly's present to the media.. (4+ / 0-)

    every four years, the duopoly makes it rain on the media.  the media, in turn protect the duopoly from outsider challengers who don't have as much money to spend and tend to favor things like campaign finance reform which would cut into the profits of the media.

    media reform is one of the big keys to getting our democracy back.

    i'm part of the 99% - america's largest minority

    by joe shikspack on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 07:04:27 AM PST

    •  Based upon my own experience in Democratic... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      joe shikspack

      ...campaigns (with my experience being primarily on the media side of the business), the punditocracy's PRIMARY--and in many more cases than some pundits will admit, and I'm talking about both sides of the proverbial pundit aisle--benchmark for a candidate's success is money-raising. It trumps EVERYTHING. A candidate starts out campaigning, and virtually the ENTIRE narrative from the MSM, for most of the campaign, is more often than not shaped upon the fundraising results of the first quarter or two of it. It's all downhill from there...

      "I always thought if you worked hard enough and tried hard enough, things would work out. I was wrong." --Katharine Graham

      by bobswern on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 07:11:15 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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