What can one buy with 1.2 billion dollars? For starters, you might be able to afford a four-year lease on the White House. If you can spare a few extra billion, you have the luxury of running a slate of candidates for the available slots in Congress.
America is a free country with very expensive elections. Constructing a political machine for a single presidential race requires the investment of substantial resources by certain interested parties. The Financial Times just reported that “the presidential and congressional elections will cost $3.9bn, up 30 per cent from the $3bn spent on elections four years ago.”
The fact that certain influentials are willing to cough up an extra 900 million dollars to support this year’s candidates indicates full satisfaction with their last purchase. What motivates individual citizens to voluntarily part with so much money?
Consider the last debate of the campaign. Bush seemed to have a single answer for every question: “no child left behind”. It was his magic wand solution for unemployment, low minimum wages, declining family income, outsourcing, the budget deficit and the huge negative trade balance. Aside from Dubya’s ruinous tax cuts, about the only domestic accomplishment of his presidency was the “no child” act -” which his administration declined to fully fund.
Kerry didn’t have a record to defend. So, he offered a modest increase in the minimum wage and some vague plan for health care reform. Because of budget constraints, the variances in the domestic policy of the Bush and Kerry amount to a few stale promises neither is likely to fulfill.
In the Foreign policy arena, Kerry pledged to support Bush’s war and swore allegiance to Ariel Sharon. Throughout the campaign, Bush seemed to revel in the fact that the 9/11 atrocities happened on his watch. Apparently, the slaughter at the WTC and the Pentagon demonstrated his ‘leadership’ qualities. Kerry could have responded with a simple response “Mr. President, Osama attacked us on your watch and under your leadership”. But Kerry didn’t and he won’t because his handlers say he shouldn’t.
On numerous occasions, Kerry declined the opportunity to challenge Bush on the missing WMDs and the deliberate ‘intelligence failures’ engineered by the neo-con Office of Special Plans. The Democratic challenger could have made an issue of the Plame affair, Abu Ghraib and The Pentagon spy scandal.
But for some reason, Kerry avoided letting the ‘neo-con’ word pass his lips. The Democratic nominee missed the opportunity to publicly humiliate Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle for the Mess on Potamia. Kerry could have emasculated Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld by demanding accountability for handing the keys of the Pentagon to a tiny Likudnik cabal of chicken hawks. A serious challenger might have inquired why Saddam’s trial has yet to take place, demanded a Grand Jury for Halliburton and roasted Bush for his ties to Enron.
In many ways, Kerry is still running against Howard Dean. To the power brokers in Washington, he has already accomplished his main mission. If he beats Bush, fine. If he doesn’t, that’s also OK.
It takes considerable effort to discern the marginal superficial variances in the domestic and foreign policies of these two candidates. Still, some people are willing to pay a whole mess of money for the privilege of seeing their man in office. Who exactly is picking up this election tab and for what purpose?
In the good old days, Howard Hughes would dispatch a courier with a briefcase containing a million dollars to Nixon. When the dispatcher asked if he should deliver a message with the loot, Hughes replied that Nixon was a ‘big boy who would understand’. So it’s fair to assume that today’s political gorillas also comprehend a few things about the people who finance their campaigns.
Some of the donors have obvious motives. Four years ago, Mark Rich’s wife invested over a million dollars to secure a pardon for her ex-hubby. The poor little Rich man’s only crime was that he fled the United States to avoid prosecution as the single largest tax dodger in American history.
It is common knowledge that certain corporations in the oil, pharmaceutical, tobacco and insurance industries have clear agendas that necessitate their financial involvement in the electoral process.
But it is the Israeli Lobby that sets the standard for targeting contributions to candidates that pledge loyalty oaths to Tel Aviv. Their real forte is hunting and destroying congressional candidates and incumbents who dare to challenge their marching orders.
In any case, the complete list of major campaign donors and their affiliations is readily available for those willing to waste their time on the research. This year’s list of contributors is unlikely to vary from the 2000 campaign. Many on the list are quite adroit at spreading their generosity to both parties. In the election business this is called ‘covering your bets’. In most cases, the donors are betting that who ever gets elected is accessible. They really appreciate the kind of politician who picks up the phone when they ring and shows up to lunch when invited. Some of the campaign loot comes from lonely rich guys who just want friends in high places. But most of it comes with a huge price tag attached.
Most analysis of election financing tends to focus on the donors and their not so secret agendas. A more interesting approach is to figure out why candidates for high office need so much money. Where exactly do they spend all these billions? Why did they need a 30% increase to cover this year’s campaign expenses?
Allow me to suggest that some candidates dip into their campaign war chests for personal expenses. They hire old alcoholic grade school pals as advisers and consultants. Their nephews get well-paid summer job to spruce up their resume. Petty cash disappears without a trace. A candidate’s handler can look forward to a plum government career after which he can retire to the lobbying industry to market his ‘access’.
Of course, the vast majority of the candidates don’t really need to dip into the cookie jar. The Senate has long been a fraternity of white millionaires. Kerry is obviously not running to get a bigger paycheck or improve his retirement package.
But even the richest candidate can’t afford to pay his own way to the White House or Congress. Senate campaigns in California and New Jersey have already crossed the $100 million mark. If Theresa Heinz had to pick up Kerry’s campaign tab she would be down to her last bottle of Ketchup.
No matter how deep your pocket is, to run a credible race you need lots of money -” other people’s money. The collected funds are mostly expended on advertising. The mass media is the single largest financial beneficiary in the $4 billion election industry. Election season results in a major windfall to their coffers. The seasonal increase in demand for advertising space inflates the unit price of airtime for both political and commercial ads. So, the media lords get to stiff Coca-Cola and Pepsi while raking in a generous portion of the campaign booty.
The polling outfits, many of them owned by the very same mass media tycoons, also do a robust business every election. The pollsters have every incentive to promote a close race that will induce both candidates to go on a spending binge. The poll results are also used to improve market share by giving the readers and viewers the kind of numbers that will make them come back for more. If CNN gives better odds on your favorite candidate -” you are less likely to flip to FOX. This might explain the wild discrepancy in their ‘scientific’ polls.
Like other industry groups, those in the media business have unique political agendas. At the top of their wish list is the desire to scrap what remains of the anti-trust laws that prevent further consolidation. Even the few remaining independently owned media operations have political axes to grind. They were staunchly in favor of rolling back inheritance taxes to keep family owned newspapers off the auction block. On this particular issue, The Seattle Times led the charge. For obvious reasons, favorable ‘editorial’ endorsement is more likely to go to office seekers who accommodate the industry’s special needs.
The mass media tycoons even have a foreign policy agenda. Many of them are extremely partial to Israel. That explains why they give more coverage to Israel than to the entire continent of Asia and Latin America. Pro-Israeli operatives are deeply entrenched in strategic media positions -” a reality every politician in Washington takes account of. No sane politician wants to invite a coordinated nuclear attack by Blitzer, Krauthammer, Koppel and Safire. Because no amount of campaign money can survive such a blitz.
None of this is new. The election industry has operated this way since Kennedy and Nixon discovered the value of television. It just seems to get more expensive every season. And why is that? It might have something to do with the nature of oligopolies and their tendency to indulge in price fixing. With the increased concentration of so many media outlets in fewer and fewer hands, it becomes easier for FOX, CNN and Clear Channel to dictate the price of a political appearance.
The ability of one individual media mogul to skew political outcomes and dictate policy is both astounding and disturbing. A year ago, Rupert Murdoch publicly threatened to withdraw support from Tony Blair. It caused a minor scandal in Britain. On this side of the pond, Murdoch’s FOX is not shy about operating as a right wing Republican platform. George Bush recently landed three consecutive interviews with Bill O’Reilly. Cheney makes such regular appearances on FOX that he might as well host his own prime time show.
Murdoch, an Australian immigrant, is arguably the most powerful Republican in America. He is Dubya’s Teflon man. Murdoch’s idiot box is one of the primary reasons so many Americans continue to believe that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks. If you watch FOX, you are likely to believe that the fictional WMD caches were not only found but that the ‘anti-Iraqi’ insurgents in Fallujah regularly deploy them.
So, where does that leave us? We have a $3.9 billion dollar tab for an election that is blatantly manipulated by media barons who have a vested interest in inflating the campaign tab. We have a media industry that operates as a virtual monopoly and is actively consolidating into the hands of a few very powerful unelected individuals. The one-man one vote franchise has been severely eroded and Murdochracy rules in the cradle of democracy. And the elected officials responsible for fixing this structural threat to the Republic are an integral part of the problem.
Tens of Millions of Americans are fully aware that we live in a media controlled state but don’t quite know what to do about it. Before you despair, allow me to propose a modest solution. Cancel the election and allow Rupert Murdoch to appoint the president.
This solution has many obvious benefits. First, It will introduce a measure of transparency to the process. Most likely, we will end up with the very same candidate we would get through the ballot box -” or a close replica. Another advantage is that we will have positive identification of the horse the president rode to the White House. Every time the president espouses a policy we don’t like, we can ring up Rupert and give him a piece of our mind. Citizens who are really pissed can always take direct action and cancel their cable.
Second, it will be easier to keep track of Murdoch then of a thousand shady operators who spend so much money acquiring access to the White House. Canceling the elections will eliminate the need for costly campaigns. Doing away with expensive campaigns alleviates a candidate’s dependency on wealthy donors. Before you know it, privileged access will be a thing of the past and the president can be free of the obligation to dispense special favors. The only citizen the president will have to mollify will be Murdoch. All Murdoch could possibly want is a hostile takeover of CNN at a fraction of the market price. Good riddance to the entire CNN staff.
It is one thing to live in a Murdochracy and quite another to know your real political address. Maybe when Rupert starts appointing the president, a lot of us will start noticing the dilapidated condition of our political environment.
There is only one minor problem with this plan. Murdoch is very likely to appoint Murdoch. Now, that would be plain unconstitutional because Rupert wasn’t even born in the USA. So, we can always deport that problem when we get to it.