Friday, June 29, 2012

Do Big Corporate Donors Matter More or Less?

 The Citizens United decision was ex-cellent

I just want to preface the following post by saying I've haven't really thought this through all the way yet, so there may be some major holes in my analysis, but this occurred to me today when I was daydreaming in line at the coffee shop.

The conventional wisdom after Citizens United was that our political system would now just be bought by the highest bidders in the corporate world. While I still think that is probably true. A few things have happened recently that changed my mind a little.

You could always determine how members of Congress and Senators voted on particular issues, just based on whatever industry had donated the most to their campaigns. In some cases a politician already supported that particular industry or issue and would just use that previous support to raise more money. In that case, the bribe kind of went in the other direction: "I already support you, but if you don't donate to my campaign, I may stop supporting you." But typically it seemed to go in the usual direction, as witnessed during the Health Care Reform debate when the last 4 Democratic holdouts in the Senate (Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, and Mary Landrieu) all happened to be huge recipients of campaign donations from Aetna, Mutual of Omaha, etc). Therefore concessions had to be made to get all of them on board. And of course with the exception of Landrieu, the others will have been voted out of office or retired without facing voters again. So congrats, you tried to make the bill worse at the behest of your campaign donors and it didn't even help your political career anyway.

But getting back to the original issue, with the exception of the vote against getting rid of tax breaks and subsidies for Big Oil, I can't think of one other vote the last few years where it was obvious the GOP was voting blindly in the interest of one of their traditional big corporate donors.

Part of the reason I was always so confident that the GOP eventually would let ObamaCare stand once it became law and validated by the SCOTUS, is that to tinker with the structure of the law at that point, could hurt Big Insurance's profits. For example if you are able to take away the mandate, but leave the other regulations in place and Big Insurance could be in a risk-management death spiral. Big Insurance fought the law and the law won. And at that point, the theory goes, having the whole law in place is better for them, than just some parts of it.

If the Republicans truly go forward with their vow to remove the mandate and possibly other parts of the law through the Reconciliation budget process that only requires 51 votes in the Senate (they'd also need a President Romney to sign that), then I think we really are seeing a party that doesn't care as much about corporate donors any more. (Caveat: maybe I'm missing something but I can't see how Big Insurance would be better off with part of the law repealed). It'll be interesting to see how it plays out. If Romney wins, will they really follow through on this or not? Is this all a ruse to fire up the Tea Party for one more election, or are they really going to try to repeal key parts of it?

It seems to me the shift we could be seeing is the GOP being able to rely more on the donations of many, many rich individuals, along with a few dozen billionaires like the Koch Brothers. The big corporations still contribute, but with other sources of unlimited campaign cash, they may not hold the same sway they used to within the party. And with Unions even weaker, that means the Democrats ultimately will be more dependent on the donations of the big corporations. In the end, the middle class will continue losing ground, until Citizens United is overturned or the campaign finance system gets repaired. And of course it's just assumed that Wall St. still has veto power over everything either party does.

For liberals like myself it's actually a much scarier world where the GOP isn't predictable when it comes tending to the whims of whoever is their highest bidder in the corporate world. That's when the political system shifts from being a conventional center-right party vs a conventional center-left party to a far right-wing party looking to implement radical change to the social democracy we've had for the last 100 years vs. a center-left party who may not have adapted to this change in the game quickly enough.

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