They are not below the radar. Their assumption of power from what were once considered the legitimately powerful, like those we elect, is somewhere between widespread and universal.
A prominent state senator calls attention to the drift of power downward to the primary election level, and he describes it as the battle of the billionaires.
The once-powerful public unions have been defunded and dismissed.
The influence of the state’s largest business organization has waned as well. When WMC spoke up on an issue and idea that offended the totalitarians in the Capitol they got their knuckles rapped and beat a quick retreat.
But nobody messes with the super PACs.
They are rich beyond imagining. They are as secretive as they care to be. No election is beyond their notice. They knocked off a state senate majority leader in Wisconsin. They get credit for punishing wayward (to them) Supreme Court justices in a nearby state.
They are in charge because they terrorize those who we thought were in charge.
The building blocks of campaigns today must include a war chest sufficient to ward off any super PAC that decides to influence the outcome. This, of course, is not possible. If a super PAC decides a candidate is either worthy or disposable that candidate’s chances of being praised to the skies by friendly issue ads or taken to the woodshed by hostile attack ads on the candidate’s ideas or personal shortcomings.
Have you noticed that you really don’t count anymore?
Candidates still want your fifty bucks so they can say that most of their contributors give them small amounts without mentioning how insignificant these contributions are to the total funds collected and spent.
The era of Money Talks is ancient history. Money has been shouting for a very long time. The crescendo level is now somewhere above screaming.
This is not a new phenomenon. Remember the robber barons of yore? They were running the place for their own aggrandizing purposes until Teddy Roosevelt, Bill Taft, and our own Fighting Bob came along and, with the considerable help of a vigorous and influential muckraking press brought them to heel.
The difference is they come with money this time not to make money.
What they are buying with their money is power.
My list of ideas designed to tame the untamable and fix the unfixable is short and runs from easy through difficult to impossible.
Starting with the impossible: Do not count on the courts.
The almost impossible is something the mantra of the early 20th century--“The first step toward curing an evil is to make it known”—had and we do not. A powerful, respected, universal press.
Everything else is in the hands of the people we thought we elected to do our business and who are too often beholden to the super PACs they fear most. They could give us the choices we used to have when we voted. They could open up their debates, return phone calls, answer their mail, respond. They could tell us who it is that is supplying the money to the super PACs. Their campaigns could be more about ideas and less about money. They could take a chance and play the part of David against the new Goliaths.
Lord Acton’s dictum about power corrupting will eventually bring down the over-reaching no matter how rich they may be. Maybe. A quicker route is to elect leaders who will do what needs to be done and ask the questions we are or should be asking.
Office: Common Cause Wisconsin