Citizens United changes the face of politics
By Kerry Drake
— September 2, 2014
The biggest names in the Democratic Party write me personal emails, some of them on a daily basis: Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Al Franken, Wendy Davis … the list seems to go on forever.
As you can imagine, it’s a pretty heady feeling, knowing that these important people take their time to correspond with me. But they never want to shoot the breeze about how the political winds in Wyoming are stirring. In fact, they don’t seem to care if I ever write to them about anything, because all they want me to do is click the “donate” button on my computer screen.
Of course, I’m not alone; millions of these form fundraising emails go out every day to people under the names of the party’s elite, as well as senior officials of organizations like the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. They started out fairly friendly several months ago, but as the mid-term election draws closer, the letters are sounding more shrill and panicky.
“Mitch McConnell is threatening the president with another government shutdown. It’s all absolutely outrageous,” wrote Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “And if Republicans win complete control of Congress in November, it will get exponentially worse.”
I assume Republicans get the same type of correspondence from their top politicians. Since I voted in the GOP primary last month, I’ll probably find out soon enough as my email address starts to pop up on their lists, too.
Most of the solicitations I’ve received lately spotlight McConnell, the U.S. senator from Kentucky who would become the Senate majority leader if Republicans take over the upper chamber, too. Other popular boogeymen are the billionaire right-wing Koch brothers, Charles and David, and infamous GOP strategist Karl Rove, who was known as “Bush’s Brain” when he was in W.’s White House.
As a progressive voter, I agree with Schultz: Things will quickly go to hell in this country if these guys prevail. There’s nothing I’d like to see more than for Allison Grimes to beat McConnell in Kentucky, preserving the Democrats’ Senate majority and keeping it from joining the GOP do-nothing House in shoving permanent gridlock down our throats.
If I could, I’d give my entire paycheck to see Wendy Davis become governor of Texas, or for Scott Walker to be bounced out of the governor’s office in Wisconsin. But I can’t afford to, and I believe in using the limited funds I have to support Wyoming candidates. That’s the advice I would give to all Wyoming voters, regardless of their party, because your donations to local politicians you support and believe in could actually have an impact on races.
I have two major pet peeves with the upcoming election. The first is the national Democrats’ inability to tell a consistent message. I have received emails minutes apart from the party’s supporters, telling me diametrically opposed reasons why my money is desperately needed.
One will contend that McConnell is hopping mad because Democrats have donated so much money to defeat him, his seat is in real jeopardy. Another will say McConnell is downright gleeful because Democrats aren’t donating enough to Grimes, and if the campaign doesn’t reach its goal this week, the apocalypse is near and we’re all screwed.
Well, which is it? My world doesn’t turn on whether Mitch McConnell is happy or sad, but can’t someone give us an accurate look at how this race is going? Does the party really think it can keep playing this shell game, in which our collective optimism gets a big boost because we’re so close to keeping control of the Senate, but we should also be totally distraught because things aren’t going better?
What were initially friendly, almost folksy appeals for money have degenerated into accusations that our party’s leaders are personally disappointed in me because I haven’t been cooperating with their game plan. Here’s a recent one from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee: “Kerry, we saw you haven’t given to our Paint the South Blue program yet — will you? All gifts will be matched.”
That was followed by a missive titled “Painful Loss” from Harry Reid: “I’m told you haven’t pitched in to the Paint the South Blue program yet. Will you? We’re launching a single day triple match until midnight.”
I feel like I’m on Santa’s naughty list. I hate to think that somewhere in the Capitol, Reid is telling his colleagues, “If only we could pry some money from that cheap guy in Wyoming, we could win this thing.”
Here’s my second, much bigger pet peeve: I don’t think my party would sound as desperate for donations if it hadn’t been for the Supreme Court’s ridiculous ruling in Citizens United that money equals free speech, corporations are people, and they should have unlimited power to buy elections. The wealthy have always had an advantage in being able to pay lobbyists for special access to politicians, but now a few billionaires can control who gets elected.
Why should the Koch brothers be able to spend an obscene amount of money pushing their far-right agenda while literally shutting the rest of us out of the picture? We have to change things, and get big money out of politics before the public’s ability to effectively participate in the democratic process is completely eliminated.
Oddly enough, there’s a way to get involved in the fight against Citizens United that is also a fundraising campaign, only this time it’s to back a vital cause, not a candidate.
I always open up email from Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is a champion of progressive causes. Whenever I ask Wyoming Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso to consider changing their minds on extremist GOP stances they’ve taken, all I get back are letters that thank me for my input and ignore everything I’ve said. So I’ve made Sanders my honorary senator, and trust him to represent my interests.
(Before the comments section fills up with calls for me to move to Vermont where I can associate with my own kind, let me note that I love Wyoming. It’s my home and I’m not going anywhere.)
Sanders is promoting support for a MoveOn campaign to get the Senate to pass Joint Resolution 19, which is scheduled for a Sept. 8 vote. It would encourage the overturn of Citizens United, and already has 50 co-sponsors.
“Let’s put the Koch brothers on notice that democracy is not — and never will be — for sale. … [We’ll] go after every senator conspicuously absent from the co-sponsor list, especially key Republicans,” Sanders wrote.
That’s the kind of national campaign that is definitely worth donating to, because it’s one where people’s small donations might actually help counter the millions spent on candidates who, in Sanders’ words, “are hell-bent on twisting our nation to match the interests of the elite and ultraconservative.”
Senator, if my few dollars might help end big-money control, count me in.
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is a contributor to WyoHistory.org. He also moderates the WyPols blog.
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