Can This Be Called Democracy?

Katrina van den HeuvelExcerpt from The Nation (October 26, 2012)
We’ve seen the future, and its name is Rex.

The New York Times recently profiled Rex Sinquefield, a
money-management millionaire who, with little fanfare,
has become Missouri’s top political donor. As the
Times’s Nicholas Confessore notes in his must-read
piece, Sinquefield may well be the most influential
private citizen in the state. Not for the power of his
ideas, or the strength of his organizing, but because
his money won’t shut up.

Like many in the 1 percent, Sinquefield’s top priority
is slashing his income taxes (he also fights teacher
tenure and police oversight). Missouri is one of four
states with no limits—you read that right—on donations
for state races. Sinquefield has taken full advantage
of the opportunity, spending more than $20 million on
Missouri campaigns over the past four years. This year,
he’s submitted twenty-two separate ballot referendums
to tax sales rather than income.

It was just a matter of time before Sinquefield, in his
zeal for his favored policy, would shell out for a more
favorable process as well. Sinquefield didn’t like the
ballot summary that Missouri Secretary of State Robin
Carnahan wrote for one of his referenda to abolish
income taxes. So since primary season, Sinquefield’s
been spending big on Shane Schoeller, who’s now the GOP
nominee in the open seat race to replace Carnahan. As
you may have guessed, Schoeller supports dumping the
income tax. He’s also proposed creating a bipartisan
committee of appointees that could chuck and replace
the secretary of state’s ballot summaries if supporters
take issue with them.

Whether or not you agree with him, it’s clear that
Sinquefield is well on his way to reshaping Missouri’s
legislature, its tax code, and its political process in
his own image—all by virtue of his wealth alone. As
Confessore writes, if the groups that backed Citizens
United get their way, and Congress or the Court ends
federal contribution caps, “The no-limits giving that
has let him do it might soon be coming to a campaign
near you.”

Already, the current election offers a tour de force of
big money politics. If anyone still believes that our
current system rewards a focus on small donors, a new
report from the Brennan Center for Justice offers a
rude awakening. Through the end of September, in the
country’s twenty-five closest House races, Republicans
raised only 18.3 percent of their funds from donations
of less than 200 dollars; Democrats, just 12.5 percent.
And that GOP figure is skewed by Allen West’s re-
election race, which apparently inspired an upsurge of
right-wing small donor giving. In the remaining twenty-
four top races, small donors brought in just 7.6
percent of the Republicans’ cash.

This month has also brought a wave of much-needed
attention to another awful impact of Citizens United:
the legalization of political coercion at work. Mike
Elk and Mark Ames warned of this trend in a prescient
Nation cover story last year about the Koch brothers’
heavy-handed pressure on their employees to vote
Republican. As George Zornick and Lee Fang reported for
us, the trend is epidemic. It’s an affront to human
rights, and another way that the Citizens United regime
perpetuates itself, rewarding the politicians least
likely to help restore our democracy.

Rex Sinquefield offers a stark illustration of the
future that awaits us if money is treated as speech,
elections as bidding wars, and corporations as people.

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