Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, the Super PAC started by Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert, filed papers with the Federal Election Commission yesterday stating that it has raised $1,023,121. “How you like me now, F.E.C? I’m rolling seven digits deep!” Colbert wrote in an addendum. http://money.cnn.com/2012/01/31/news/economy/colbert_super_PAC_filing/index.htm
Colbert, who has been using his show to explore the murky world of campaign finance added, “It’s the way our founding fathers would have wanted it, if they had founded corporations instead of just a country.”
Documents filed by Colbert showed that most contributions were less than $250, but listed some interesting exceptions. Gavin Newsom, the Lieutenant Governor of California, gave $500. Newsom said, “I applaud Stephen Colbert exposing the absurdity of our current political financing system. I’m proud to support Colbert’s message with a donation. And I like his haircut.”
It can hardly be an accident that Colbert filed his report on the same day that Mitt Romney completed his purchase of the 50 Florida delegates using Super PAC funds.
I spotted an interesting article in the morning paper, drawn from the Washington Post: “GOP super PACs may give Obama a run for his money.” Unusual so early in an election year – no high-sounding phrases about the will of the people or selecting the best candidate. Just a bare statement of fact that the winner will be the one who buy the most airtime on TV.
On the January 20, Bill Moyers interviewed David Stockman, former budget director for Ronald Reagan, who shared his disillusionment:
“we also have to recognize the pessimism that the public reflects in the surveys and polls is warranted…The Congress is owned lock, stock and barrel by one after another, after another special interest…So how do we turn that around? I think it’s going to take, unfortunately a real crisis before maybe the decks can be cleared.” http://billmoyers.com/
On the same program, Moyers interviewed Gretchen Morgenson, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for The New York Times and author of the 2011 book, Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon.
Morgenson agrees that another crisis, worse than 2008 is inevitable, because nothing has changed, and expects it to happen within the next 10 years. After listening to her sadness and anger, Moyers asked Morgenson if there was anything that gave her hope, and she said yes:
“What makes me optimistic is that people are understanding this now, that Main Street gets it, you know, the thing that I found compelling about the Occupy Wall Street movement was that it seemed to be tapping into this anger. Previous to that there was just this kind of silence, you know, people were maybe too flabbergasted by what had gone on.
But we still don’t know it all and until we do we can’t really protect ourselves going forward. But I do get a sense that there is anger, that there is rage and that maybe, maybe, just maybe somebody in Washington might pay attention to that.”
The thing that really kills me about the influence of advertising in our elections is that IT WORKS. How can it be that America’s citizens choose their leaders based on 30 second video clips that are clearly shallow and usually distortions of the truth? Maybe we get the elected officials we deserve.
Forty years ago, I spent a semester with some college friends making a 20 minute movie. One of our number had good equipment and had made short indie films in New York, so he was the de facto leader. Once, when we were having trouble with edits, he went to his friend at a local TV station and came home with reels of three hours of commercials. We kicked back on beanbag chairs, cranked up the music and watched. Since then I have admired the precise and perfect ways shots and scenes for commercials are assembled – they are hands down the (technically) best visuals on TV. Plus we’ve had forty more years of behavioral and motivational studies since then, and high paid futurists and trend-spotters. Plus, all the studies confirm that TV puts us into receptive, alpha wave modes.
So I think I get how commercials motivate. The real tragedy for me is that now, with the complicity of the Supreme Court, there are no limits on what candidates can spend.
No one even makes noises about campaign finance reform anymore – why should they – it was always a game of the foxes designing safety rules for the henhouse.
I long for rules like those in other countries where it is illegal to campaign before six weeks prior to the election. I long for caps on spending and campaigns being funded simply by a couple bucks available to the candidates by taxpayers checking a box on their tax forms. Obama already has a BILLION dollar campaign fund and he is doing most of his campaigning flying around the country on Air Force One while the taxpayers foot the bill. (If you think the ads are bad now, wait until the general election.) His campaign should be charged proportionally for all his trips that include campaigning. (Basically, that would be about 90%). The super-pacs are just exacerbating an already horrible situation. Yes, votes are bought in our elections — on both sides and at nearly every level. That roaring in your ears is the founding fathers spinning in their graves. I’m pretty sure this is not what they had in mind.
One of the guests on Bill Moyers this last Sunday said the same money was flooding into the PACs of both parties. Hedging bets. It just seems to be getting harder to sustain the illusion that the choices we wind up with at election time represent “the will of the people.” Thank heavens for people like Moyers and Colbert who are pointing out the the emperor has no clothes.
I’m not sure elections have ever represented the will of the people. I’m even pretty sure they weren’t ever intended to. The Constitution originally had some nice safe guards against “excessive democracy” like the electoral college and the appointment of senators by state legislature.
Election time is mostly meant to keep the masses happy by providing “i voted” stickers. Making your voice heard in politics requires a bit a civil disobedience (a la Thoreau, not public artistic expression or breaking into city halls) and a lot of writing to your representatives and the media.
Also, Colbert makes me proud to be from Charleston.
These are really interesting questions. Did elections ever represent the will of the people? I do remember when conventions were not pre-orchestrated television events – in fact they could be downright messy, like the riots outside the Democratic convention in 1968. I know there was a time when great wealth was not a pre-requisite to getting elected president (e.g., certain kinds of achievement could do it, like Eisenhower). I know the polarization and pessimism of the citizenry over the last few years is new in my lifetime.
I think now, perhaps, elections may be about getting, “I voted” stickers, but I think that’s the last thing the framers of the Constitution envisioned. I think their vision has been subverted by greed.
George Washington was born to wealth, but he used his personal assets not to get elected president, but to pay his own expenses while he was in office. That’s a matter of historical record. Hmmm – how about that as a suggestion to our elected officials? A great way to cut the deficit, while waving the flag of the Founding Fathers. Suggest they pay their own way! Not a one of them now that couldn’t afford it!