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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

And the moral of the story is that you can now buy an election in the US
Posted by Jill | 6:04 AM
There have always been stories of government for sale, but in the aftermath of Citizens United, it can now be done blatantly. But is it really all that simple?

Democratic Party ineptitude was on full display last night, both in Wisconsin and in the less-visible races here in New Jersey. It's tempting to attribute Scott Walker prevailing in Wisconsin just on the huge sums of money poured into his coffers from out of state, but Chris Cilizza in the Washington Post cites other reasons for the debacle in the cheese state last night:
* The Democratic primary: To hear those who worked in the trenches of the recall tell it, the fact that Democrats had a contested primary between Barrett and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk bears considerable responsibility for Walker’s victory.

Not only did the primary take place less than a month before the general recall election but organized labor spent millions in support of Falk (and against Barrett), spending that many Democrats believe weakened the eventual nominee. Democratic pollsters insisted that Walker was languishing in the early spring but rebounded as Barrett and Falk fought amongst themselves in the primary.

* Money: As of Monday, more than $63 million has been spent on the recall fight with Walker and his conservative allies vastly outspending Barrett and other Democratic-aligned groups.

Walker himself had raised in excess of $30 million for the recall campaign while Barrett collected just under $4 million.

Being outspent 10-1 (or worse) is never a recipe for success in a race. Democrats cried foul over Walker’s exploitation of a loophole that allowed him to collect unlimited contributions prior to the official announcement of the recall in late March. Of course, Democrats also pushed the recall and Walker played by the rules of the game — making what he did strategically smart rather than underhandedly nefarious.

* 2010: There was considerable internal discussion and disagreement between Washington and Wisconsin Democrats (and organized labor) about whether to push for a recall election this summer or wait until 2014 for a chance to unseat Walker. (Washington Democrats broadly favored the latter option, Wisconsin Democrats and labor the former).

As the recall played out, two things became clear: 1) There were almost no one undecided in the race and 2) those few souls who were undecided tended to resist the recall effort on the grounds that Walker had just been elected in 2010.

There's also the fact that the President of the United States, in his continued quixotic and delusional quest to "rise above it all", refused to get his manicured hands dirty in Wisconsin, and the national party refused to put any skin in that particular game until it was already too late.

I would add to this also that Americans have really grown to dislike and distrust labor unions, especially public sector unions. The reality that without the history of labor unions, there would be no 40-hour workweek and no minimum wage and no paid vacation has been completely obscured by high-profile battles over teacher contracts and hundreds of thousands of accumulated sick time payouts. When an ever-increasing number of Americans have been bumped from the full-time-permanent-job model and into non-guaranteed contract work that offers lower pay, no paid time off, and makes them completely dispensable at a moment's notice, it's difficult to get them to put together that part of the reason for this is that we turned our back on labor unions long ago after winning many of the perks for which they fought for decades.

It doesn't help that all too often, being in a labor union is like working for two sets of management, neither of which has your best interests in mind. My two experiences with being in a labor union are not exactly the stuff of which strong support is made either. In the mid-1970's, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen had me on strike for an entire summer, lest I be blacklisted from working at the A&P the NEXT summer. And in the 1980's, the Newspaper Guild blocked my promotion into a non-union management position even though I would be replaced by a union employee. But if you want to know what a society without labor unions and the wage protections they represent looks like, you need only to look at Gilbert & O'Bryan, a Boston law firm:
The BBJ received an emailed tip this week from someone who says they’re an employed, Boston College Law School (BC Law) graduate. The tipster sent screen grabs of a job listing on BC Law’s career site. The post advertises a full-time associate position at a small Boston law firm, Gilbert & O’Bryan LLP, paying just $10,000 per year. (That's $10K, it's not a typo.)

Larry O'Bryan, one of the firm's partners, said he's received about 32 applications for the $10K per year job, since posting it one week ago. He said that while the pay is low, the lawyer who is eventually hired will gain valuable experience. "What we emphasize is that we do provide the opportunity for new associates to have their own case load right from the start," said O'Bryan. Workers working full-time with four weeks' vacation at Massachusetts' minimum wage of $8 would be paid more than $15,000. At the federal minimum wage of $7.25, a worker would earn nearly $14,000 in a year. Maybe BC Law grads should take a look at a slide show published by Boston Business Journal earlier this month: 50 Boston jobs under $50K.

The job post reads: “Compensation is mainly based on percentage of work billed and collected ... We expect an associate to earn $10,000 in compensation in the first year.”


Here’s what the BC grad has to say about the job post he found:
"I keep an eye on the Boston legal market for openings, because I work outside of MA, and hope to eventually return. Logging onto BC Law Symplicity today, I was shocked to see my alma mater is advertising a full-time job at a small Boston firm where the compensation is expected to be $10,000 per year. Assuming a 40 hour work week, 52 weeks per year, that’s less than $5 per hour by my calculations. To be exact, $4.81 per hour, which is a fraction of minimum wage. For a school that pays cafeteria workers a "living wage," I find it astonishing that BC Law permits a listing for such an unconscionably low salary."

Or, you could look at Wisconsin.

But as Rachel Maddow has pointed out in the past, labor unions, as diminished as they are, still provide a sizable amount of money for Democratic political races. And if all the billionaires are going to pour unlimited sums into Republican races, the funding differential, combined with a lazy and craven press, Republican candidates like Willard Rmoney who are willing to baldfacedly lie (and know they can get away with it), and an inattentive and incurious American public willing to believe anything they see in a TV ad, and you essentially sound the death knell to anything approaching elections that offer a real choice.

Another example of what happens when the public doesn't pay attention is right here in New Jersey's 5th Congressional District. This is a highly-gerrymandered district that includes some of the most affluent parts of Bergen County, some of its more blue-collar areas, and the rural areas of Sussex and Warren Counties. For 25 years, this district was represented by Marge Roukema, a moderate Republican who would probably be drummed out of the party now. Scott Garrett ran against her twice, gaining the name recognition that made him the logical heir apparent when she retired. Voters in this district are so inattentive that when an independent candidate who was known in Republican circles ran in 2006 -- four years into Garrett's tenure in Congress -- he was asked, "Why are you running against Marge?"

Over the last decade, the Democrats have run candidates of ever-decreasing credibility against Garrett. Actually, that's not entirely true, because both the national and state parties have simply given up on this district, essentially allowing Garrett to become Congressman-for-life and disenfranchising all non-Republicans in the district. This year, Steve Rothman's district was eliminated, and the party offered him $2 million to run against Garrett in the 5th. Rothman is a bulldog of a candidate, not the kind of nobodies, blind rabbis, milquetoast Rotarians, and converted Republicans that have tried for this seat during Garrett's tenure. The 5th may be Republican, but it's not batshit crazy Republican, and Rothman could have had a very real chance to win this year. But instead he decided to run a primary challenge to another Democrat, Bill Pascrell, in the 9th. Last night Pascrell supporters smacked away Rothman like the annoying little fly the latter had chosen to become. So now, instead of a real challenger in the 5th, Rothman is gone from Congress, and running against Garrett is a crony of the old, corrupt, Bergen County Democratic Organization who couldn't even be bothered to show up to a debate against his primary challengers.

Oh, I'll go through the motions of voting this fall, in the last ever U.S. election that has even the slightest resemblance to an actual election. But I'm under no illusions anymore that democracy works here anymore.

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Anonymous Sandy Wittliff said...
Excellent-- You have said so manythings I was thinking last night. I dread to see what lies ahead as the Republicans feel more emboldened and the billionaires see their chances rise to further change this country into the few haves and every one else can beg.

Anonymous KanaW said...
Almost every story on the 'news' in election cycles is about how x raised y dollars and b raised c dollars, rather than what their records and statements are (and how they match up).

I came to the conclusion after CU that we might as well simply put our elections out for bid. S/he who raises the most gets the seat. The money is what it's all about now. Nothing else.

I still vote, but I don't hold out much hope for the future.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Re labor unions: Yep, the Repubs can count on good old American amnesia. People tend to take the 40-hour work week, benefits, safety regs, etc, for granted, apparently completely oblivious that these thing were fought for and won by unions, not simply handed down by wise and beneficent Galtian overlords.

Then all ya gotta do is feed 'em the Reagan Kool-Aid: "government bad, unions bad," and you can get 'em to vote against their own interests.

Hey, to quote from some famous old characters: "There's a sucker born every minute," "Never give a sucker an ever break," "Never smarten up a chump."

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Is there no one who will listen. We can make campaign donations meaningless by refusing the election profiteering now taking place. 1) No campaigning till 3 mos before an election. 2)Since voting is the backbone of our democracy air time for ads should be free and a ceiling on the number of ads that can be run. 3)All candidates must be given equal air time. This keeps it fair and balanced and gives the oligarchs nothing to spend their money on. Yet no one will even talk about this approach...a means to go against Citizens United huh.