Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Politics’ Dirty Tricks

By Mariusz Zawadzki              10 January 2012
The schizoid situation where the candidates pose as innocents, while at the same time lead a brutal campaign through front men, is new for U.S. politics.     Translated By Anna Rygiewicz
Edited by Steven Stenzler      Origina in Polish

In his campaign adverts, Mitt Romney, the frontrunner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, does not speak ill of other candidates. He does not even mention them. He is friendly and smiles all the time. He talks about how he will save America and find jobs for millions of unemployed. He talks about the model family he has created with his wife Ann, with whom he has been married for 42 years. He enumerates his achievements in business and politics. The ads also show the cheerful Ann who compliments the qualities of her husband’s character.
In Iowa, where the first Republican primary took place on Jan. 4 Romney spent nearly $1 million on such positive advertisements. But he did not win because of them. He beat his rivals thanks to the aggressive spots made by Restore Our Future, an independent political action committee. These ads attacked Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who has been leading in the polls since mid-December. The spots reproached him for committing tax fraud at the end of the 1990s, for which he was punished by the Senate Ethics Committee, and for supporting the environmentalists in the fight against the greenhouse effect, which is even more embarrassing for a true American conservative.
The Restore Our Future committee, founded by Romney’s former lawyer, spent about $3 million to destroy Gingrich. The founder does not hide that he supports Romney, but apart from that he does not have anything to do with him. In accordance with the law, he is independent. When Gingrich publicly urged his rival to order the committee to stop the attacks, Romney said that he cannot contact this committee or order it to do anything, because in accordance with the law, it is independent.
The wronged Gingrich is not innocent either. He is backed as well by an “independent” political action committee, even with a similar name: Winning Our Future. Next Wednesday, Gingrich’s committee is starting a TV campaign in North Carolina, where on Jan. 21 the third primaries will take place. Advertisements costing $3.5 million will remind Americans about the history of Bain Capital.
The company, established in 1984 by Romney and his business partners, bought enterprises on the verge of bankruptcy, carried out their restructuring (which usually meant mass dismissals) and sold them at a profit.
Such a business model generated a lot of money for Romney. His assets are estimated around $250 million. They are, however, a burden in the presidential campaign. People call Romney a heartless "vulture capitalist." The candidate defends himself by saying that Bain Capital saved thousands of jobs because thanks to the restructuring of the enterprises, many of them did not go bankrupt. Of course, the Winning Our Future committee’s ads show only the people who were fired by Romney’s company.
The schizoid situation where the candidates pose as innocents, while at the same time lead a brutal campaign through front men, is new for U.S. politics. The Supreme Court of the United States led to this situation when it ruled in January 2010 that private companies may without any restrictions finance the "independent” political action committees. Any such committee (super PAC) can, in turn, without any limitations finance its candidate's advertisements, provided that it does not contact him or her (which means it remains "independent.”)
The justices' decision was a real revolution because in the U.S. private companies cannot finance candidates, and private persons may donate no more than $2,500 to their favorite politician (or $30,800 to a political party.)
The U.S. Supreme Court created a legal loophole thanks to which many corporations can finance candidates without any limitations. And in secret, too! Although the “independent” committees have to disclose the donors, there can be among them a 501(c)4 organization (the name comes from section 501(c)4 of the Internal Revenue Code), and such an organization is not obliged to disclose the donors, provided that supporting a particular candidate is not its principal activity. This regulation is perfect for money laundering. Successfully making use of it is, among others, Karl Rove, the master Republican strategist and the most effective bursar of the Republican Party, who has founded American Crossroads, an independent committee, and a 501(c)4 organization called American GPS. The committee receives money from the organization, which gets it from God knows where.
Many politicians, including President Barack Obama and his Republican rival from 2008 Sen. John McCain, criticized the Supreme Court's ruling. It blurs the already fuzzy connections between business and politics in Washington. Now, when a congressman votes for, let’s say, tax reductions for the oil industry, you never know whether it is because he actually believes them to be good for the U.S., or simply because his campaign was secretly sponsored by the oil industry.
And the elections change sometimes into a cabaret because the "independence" of the PACs is a mockery. In the Saturday candidate's debate transmitted on NBC, Romney and Gingrich swore that they did not even watch their "independent" committees' adverts, but then, unintentionally, they engaged in a surprisingly detailed discussion about what is shown in the spots.