Mitt Romney escaped the record heat this weekend by attending several parties in his honor in the Hamptons. Early predictions were that one afternoon in this elite enclave would net the candidate more than $3 million for his campaign.
Less than 200 miles away in Philadelphia, where the median income hovers at $36,000 and a quarter of the city lives below the poverty line, there were no beach parties, but some disturbing news. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that state election officials upped the number of statewide voters potentially affected by the new voter ID laws from the 90,000 that Governor Corbett claimed to 758,000. A full 9.2 percent of the state’s eligible voters could be turned away from the polls in November, despite being eligible. In Philadelphia, where over half of the city’s residents are people of color, 18 percent of registered voters lack proper ID under the state’s new laws—laws that Pennsylvania House leader Mike Turzai claimed will deliver the state to Romney in November.
These twin anecdotes seem to perfectly capture the GOP 2012 plan for victory: “voters out, money in.” Despite the massive capital advantage the Republicans have accrued, they’re still driving a strategy of disenfranchisement and destruction that imperils our democracy and seeds distrust among a populace already experiencing record lows of confidence in their elected leadership.
Next week, pundits will be hyperventilating over the political fundraising totals from the last quarter. The cover of the Sunday NY Times Magazine breathlessly asks the rhetorical question, “Can Democrats Catch Up in the Super-PAC game?” Let’s get it clear: no, they can’t and no one ever claimed they could. But they also don’t need to—what they need is to raise some money, spend it smarter than their counterparts, and provide millions of people the legal means and the emotional desire to exercise their constitutional right to vote. The right understands this key to Democratic victory, which is why outraising is not enough. Victory requires dominating the system at both ends.
More than two dozen states have passed voter ID laws, with eleven passing in the last two years. Republicans, sensing the opportunity, have continually hyped the negligible threat of voter fraud in order to make voting tougher and tougher for the elderly, the poor, Latinos and African-Americans—all of whom tend to lean Democratic. Meanwhile, back in April, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson gave $10 million on one day to Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future. Combined with $20 million to Newt Gingrich’s failed bid plus millions more to Rove and Koch brothers front groups, Adelson has given close to $60 million all told, and has stated publicly that he’ll spend up to $100 million to defeat Barack Obama.
What’s driving these actions at both ends of the spectrum is a mix of personal entitlement, business efficiency and good old-fashioned elitism, with a healthy dose of racism. Take Adelson: he’s in for high stakes because his personal stakes are high. He’s under investigation by both the Department of Justice and the Security and Exchange Commission for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying off local officials and working with organized crime to further his gambling empire in Macau, China. The Obama administration has been diligent about prosecuting FCPA cases, while Adelson presumes the heat would be off under a Romney presidency. When you have $25 billion, what’s $100 million to secure your freedom?
Adelson also makes 90 percent of his earnings from his casinos in Macau and Singapore, a high number, but not unheard of for US companies operating abroad. Obama has promised to close the loopholes that allow these corporations to shelter earnings overseas, robbing US treasuries of billions in tax dollars. Preserving offshore tax havens is not the only place where donating big bucks to GOP Super PACs is a highly efficient business model. Mega-donors David and Charles Koch’s company, Koch Industries, spent a whopping $40 million on disclosed lobbying expenditures between 2008 and 2010. The price of a fundraiser in the Hamptons is peanuts compared to that tab. Between the tax plan and the estate tax, high-net-worth folks stand to save millions annually under Romney. The candidate himself would save almost $5 million per year under his own plan.
Apparently, when the stakes are this high, you don’t take chances. Hence, the full court press on disenfranchisement. In Florida, the GOP governor has been so intent on purging voter rolls of Latino-sounding names that the Justice Department filed an injunction and sixty-seven election supervisors courageously refused to implement the program until he proves his claims in each case.
Self-serving economics is a repugnant driver, but the psychology that allows lawmakers to deny fundamental rights to their constituents while their rank and file stand by is even more insidious. In a rare moment of honesty, a GOP donor that shelled out $25,000 to attend one of the Romney events yesterday had this to say to a LA Times reporter:
“I don’t think the common person is getting it,” she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits. “Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them… But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies—everybody who’s got the right to vote—they don’t understand what’s going on. I just think if you’re lower income—one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.”
While it’s the money they flaunt, it’s the people they fear, a fact that would serve us well to remember as limited resources are spent in 2012 and beyond. As progressives work to protect the vote for every American citizen in the short term and to blunt the impact of big money on our democratic process, let’s not lose focus on long-term investments in our own not-so-secret weapon: the people—of all colors and ages, all incomes levels, in the cities and on the farms—that make this country great. When they all have a voice, we all win.