Sunday, January 27, 2013

Secret donors fight the Hagel nomination

From the New York Times:
A brand new conservative group calling itself Americans for a Strong Defense and financed by anonymous donors is running advertisements urging Democratic senators in five states to vote against Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, saying he would make the United States “a weaker country.”

Another freshly minted and anonymously backed organization, Use Your Mandate, which presents itself as a liberal gay rights group but purchases its television time through a prominent Republican firm, is attacking Mr. Hagel as “anti-Gay,” “anti-woman” and “anti-Israel” in ads and mailers.

Those groups are joining at least five others that are organizing to stop Mr. Hagel’s confirmation, a goal even they acknowledge appears to be increasingly challenging. But the effort comes with a built-in consolation prize should it fail: depleting some of Mr. Obama’s political capital as he embarks on a new term with fresh momentum.

Note that these groups are trying to persuade Democratic senators, not Republicans. And they're doing that, at least in part, by pretending to be Democrats, by pretending to be liberals.

They can do this because it's all anonymous. Their funding comes from secret donors. Their backers are all unknown to anyone outside the organization. Even the IRS is kept in the dark when it comes to these groups.

And if they fail, which they probably will, it's OK, because the effort will still weaken Barack Obama - which is the whole point. After all, these are almost certainly the same people who spent big to defeat Obama in November, too.
The media campaign to scuttle Mr. Hagel’s appointment, unmatched in the annals of modern presidential cabinet appointments, reflects the continuing effects of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which loosened campaign finance restrictions and was a major reason for the record spending by outside groups in the 2012 election. All told, these independent and largely secretly financed groups spent well over $500 million in an attempt to defeat Mr. Obama and the Democrats, a failure that seemed all the greater given the huge amounts spent.

While the campaign against Mr. Hagel, a Republican, is not expected to cost more than a few million dollars, it suggests that the operatives running the independent groups and the donors that finance them — many of whom are millionaires and billionaires with ideological drive and business agendas that did not go away after the election — are ready to fight again.

This is all thanks to that terrible Citizens United decision by the five Republicans on our Supreme Court (note that all four Democrats on the Court opposed it): huge sums of cash from secretive groups, funded by anonymous millionaires and billionaires, who pretend to be someone else in order to push their own secretive political goals.

As the article points out, this effort is "unmatched in the annals of modern presidential cabinet appointments." But we're on uncertain ground here anyway. All of this is unmatched, because we've never allowed such an open-season for political corruption, especially not from anonymous sources.

And it's not just individuals, either. Well, it is, because individuals make the decisions. But these people don't even have to use their own money, not if they control corporate coffers, because Citizens United opened the door to that, too. CEOs can donate corporate money while keeping it a secret from the corporation's shareholders (who supposedly own that money) and customers alike.

If you own any stock or mutual funds - say, in an IRA or other retirement plan? - that could be your money they're using to buy or attack politicians, for their own secretive purposes, and they don't even have to tell you about it.

And to add insult to injury, since it's all anonymous, they can pretend to be anyone they like. They can pretend to be you - or people like you - while they're using your money to oppose everything you favor.

This is what the Republicans did to us - or, rather, what we did to ourselves by electing Republicans. Supreme Court justices are appointed for life, so two of the five are still from Ronald Reagan's presidency. (And George W. Bush's two appointments are still young men, likely to be making similar terrible decisions for a long, long time.)

We haven't seen the worst of this, not yet. Right-wing groups are still coming to grips with the possibilities (such as pretending to be someone else while they attack from the left, as well as from the right). And the hundreds of millions of dollars they spent in 2012 is likely only the start.

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