Posts Tagged Super PAC

The will of one

Clouded Captiol [Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP]

Clouded Captiol [Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP]

Five years ago, a Jewish businessman in Dothan, Alabama saw that his synagogue was running out of congregants.

So he put up $1 million to recruit Jews, offering a financial incentive for them to move to Alabama and join the congregation.

Money can accomplish seemingly-impossible things, like getting Jews to move to the Deep South. However, that becomes a problem when there is no other power to balance the influence of cash and an individual willing to use it to exert his or her will.

An individual like John Ramsey. A 21-year-old Ron Paul fan, he used money inherited from his grandparents to start the Liberty for All Super PAC.

According to Rolling Stone, the PAC funded the winning campaign of  Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie, one of the hardline proponents of the government shutdown.

People have a right to contribute resources to causes they believe in, but without forces to balance them–like a string government or informed populace–what we get is essentially feudalism: the people with the money decide what happens.

Liberals have (rightfully) criticized corporations of exerting this kind of undue influence through lobbying and job-baiting, but things will get much weirder if that guy who just won the lottery becomes a political influencer.

The government shutdown is an example of tyranny of the minority: a group that’s been outvoted is holding everyone else hostage because they can’t deal with losing.

If Super PACs and their untraceable campaign funding are allowed to continue corrupting the electoral process, we’ll just get more of that.

In a democracy, not every person can have his or her way 100 percent of the time. Let’s make sure that having money to spend on a political campaign doesn’t change that.

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John Adams and the Super PAC

John AdamsJohn Adams was right about a lot of things, but not everything. As much as we rely on the Founding Fathers to guide the development of American society, even 200-plus years after the fact, they couldn’t predict everything.

Adams in particular tried to dissect an issue that is very relevant to 21st century Americans: the relationship between money and political power. “Why do men affront heaven and earth to accumulate wealth, which will forever be useless to them?” Adams asked. “Because riches attract the attention, consideration, and congratulations of mankind,” he declared.

According to Adams, wealth was a means to an end, and that end was self-aggrandizement. People did not seek to accumulate material wealth just to be rich, because what they really sought was “the attention, consideration, and congratulations of mankind.” That, Adams argued, was the motivator of human ambition. “Ambition springs from the desire of esteem and from emulation, not from property,” he wrote.

If Adams could see the 2012 Republican primary, with its anonymous Super PACs and campaigns financed by obscure individual billionaires, he might have to change his position. The rich men (and women) of the 21st century are a new mutation of the ones Adams was talking about, or even the robber barons of the 19th century.

Today’s wealthy individuals do seem to think money is an end, not a means. Instead of seeking the approval of their fellow Americans, they shun publicity so they can accumulate more wealth without interruption. Recently, the names of significant campaign donors were released by the Super PACs, and most of them were unrecognizable. The campaigns of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are financed largely by individual billionaires; if Adams was correct, why aren’t they running for president?

In the past, individuals really did use their money to buy the attention of their countrymen. Cornelius Vanderbuilt built a ship for the U.S. Navy so he could get the title “Commodore.” Andrew Carnegie donated money to build the New York Public Library, and got himself a memorial in the form of a New York institution.

Today’s billionaires don’t seem interested in any of that. They may not be able to take their money to the hereafter, but all they want to do is get more of it. It’s not about the glory anymore; it really is all about the Benjamins. It is very rare for John Adams to underestimate humanity’s capacity for evil and selfishness, but this time America’s wealthy are acting in a way he could not predict.

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