Derrick Z. Jackson

Follow the campaign money

By Derrick Z. Jackson
Globe Columnist / October 26, 2010

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IT TOOK just one election for the worst fears of John Paul Stevens to be realized and for us to see how much democracy we have lost.

Stevens wrote the blistering dissent in the bitter 5-4 Supreme Court “Citizens United’’ decision in January that lifted restrictions on election campaign spending by corporations and unions. He said the conservative majority rejected “the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding.’’ Stevens said the decision “unleashes the floodgates’’ of corporate and union spending and will “cripple’’ the ability of ordinary citizens, Congress, and the states to withstand “corporate domination of the electoral process.’’

Now, the floodgates are open. The New York Times reported last week about massive corporate donations to the US Chamber of Commerce, which in turn is spending heavily on campaign ads to support mostly Republican candidates. The bottom line for the Chamber is a Congress that cripples industrial, banking, and business regulations and grants massive tax loopholes.

The Chamber, which complains that regulatory compliance costs American businesses more than $1 trillion a year, has collected millions of dollars in donations from the likes of Goldman Sachs, Prudential Financial, Dow Chemical, and Chevron Texaco. The Chamber’s national political director, William Miller, told the Times, “We are so close to bringing about historic change on Capitol Hill.’’

Also last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees is the biggest outside spender in the 2010 elections, primarily to help Democrats withstand pro-Republican efforts such as the Chamber’s. AFSCME president Gerald McEntee, who fears that a Republican Congress and Republican governors mean massive budget and job cuts, told the Journal, “We’re spending big. And we’re damn happy it’s big. And our members are damn happy it’s big — it’s their money.’’

No one should be happy. Whether the spending is by businesses or unions, Democrats or Republicans, it is already an endless game of leapfrog. According to the Journal, AFSCME’s $88 million combats the $75 million of the Chamber, while Karl Rove’s pro-Republican American Crossroads is spending $65 million to neuter the pro-Democrat $44 million of the Service Employees International Union and the $40 million of the National Education Association.

The ordinary citizen is crushed at the bottom of the pile. Chamber allies want as few limits as possible to polluting the environment and gouging consumers. The Chamber itself vigorously fought health care reform and serious efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions to the point where it challenged the very validity of climate change. Chamber president Thomas Donohue claimed that climate change legislation proposed by Democrats “would tie economic activity in knots and eliminate jobs from one end of the country to another.’’

Meanwhile, the amount of money that AFSCME is spending to keep skin in the game on Capitol Hill is amounting to an offense against the local, state, and federal taxpayers who employ its members in the first place. McEntee’s boast of being “damn happy’’ with AFSCME’s spending is a stupid way to engage a recession-wracked nation where just 12 percent of workers are unionized and there is no pure connection between union job protection and job performance quality in schools, hospitals, and public works.

This is a loss of democracy far more worthy of the anger of Americans than perhaps anything else at the moment, far more important than anything that the Tea Party is railing about. Justice Stevens wrote, “When citizens turn on their televisions and radios before an election and hear only corporate electioneering, they may lose faith in their capacity as citizens to influence public policy.’’ The turnout on Nov. 2 will tell us how much faith has been lost. This is an election where Americans are voting less for a candidate than for a corporation.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at

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