Last year, in the fight to protect their Congressional majorities, Democrats attacked Republicans for the reliance on anonymous donors and others (presumably shadowy) who were using their wealth to undermine the process of democracy. Fast forward a few months, and Democrats are now gearing up for President Obama’s re-election battle in 2012. As the Los Angeles Times reports, some Democrats have taken this as an opportunity to replicate the formerly scorned conservative model of shell organizations and undisclosed donors:
Majority PAC, a new group aimed at electing Democrats to the Senate, and American Bridge 21st Century, which will serve as a research hub, are being organized as so-called super political action committees that can raise unlimited amounts of money from contributors whose donations are reported to the Federal Election Commission. But both are also affiliated with nonprofit 501(c)(4) social welfare groups that can raise money from undisclosed donors and give money directly to super PACs.
The same dual structure is being considered by Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, two former White House aides who are likely to launch their own independent expenditure effort in support of President Obama’s reelection, according to people familiar with the plans.
To be fair, I don’t actually begrudge these Democrats for their willingness to abandon campaign rhetoric in favor of tactical and strategic advantages. The GOP has already embraced anonymous donors, and there’s no reason for Democrats to unilaterally disarm themselves. Unfortunately, as Democracy 21’s Fred Wertheimer notes in the piece, this will almost certainly spark a new “arms race” between conservatives and liberals, as each seeks to better position outside groups for massive returns.
Independent of everything else, I don’t have a particularly large issue with anonymous campaign contributions; they aren’t the best thing to have in a campaign finance system, but they also aren’t a uniquely corrupting influence. The problem comes when you consider the presence of undisclosed donors in concert with other trends: the slow erosion of public sector unions, the growing dependence on Wall Street for campaign funds, rising income inequality, etc. This isn’t an original observation, but together, these push the parties toward further reliance on rich donors, and an even greater reluctance to challenge the interests of the wealthy.
That said, the last three years of near-complete acquiescence to wealthy interests, I have a hard time imagining how the rich could accumulate more influence.