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Campaign cash: Citizens united becomes get-out-of-jail-free card for corporate criminals

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The votes are in, and while some close races are still being tallied, there is a clear winner from the 2010 elections: Secret corporate cash.

Such unaccounted for political donations may end up allowing those accused of wrongdoing to go free. As Joshua Holland details for AlterNet, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission may have provided a lifetime supply of get-out-of-jail-free cards to corporate criminals.

The Kentucky senate race serves as a prime example. The Democratic candidate, Jack Conway, is currently Kentucky’s attorney general. Conway is also currently prosecuting a nursing home for allegedly covering up the sexual abuse of one of its residents.

But that nursing home is owned by Terry Forcht, a millionaire who gives prodigiously to right-wing causes. He poured money into Karl Rove’s organization, American Crossroads GPS, which ran ads backing Conway’s Republican opponent, Rand Paul. Guess who came away with the victory last night?

As Holland emphasizes, the mid-term elections are just how the first phase of the justice system’s corruption plays out. Eventually the mere threat of attack ads could be enough to prevent needed prosecutions. Corporate bigwigs could literally get away with murder, and pay for it only through attack ads.

Think this is bad? Just wait for 2012

As David Corn details for Mother Jones, the Supreme Court’s ruling has put American democracy in grave danger. This year’s big spending is just a warm-up for the 2012 presidential election. Karl Rove has already pledged to keep running attack ads after the mid-terms, and there’s no doubt that he’ll make good on that. As Corn emphasizes, this issue doesn’t just affect how campaigns are financed -- it will permanently reshape the very nature of American elections.

The permanent, neverending campaign will become even more permanent and neverending. These big-and-secret-money groups will be working 24/7, opposing and discrediting President Barack Obama and the Democrats in the so-called off-year and then revving up for the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. The negative ads never have to stop.

That, ultimately, is the major take-away from last night’s elections. Not the number of seats Republicans picked up in the House, or the Tea Party’s ability to infiltrate the Senate, but the formal incorporation of American politics. With literally no limits on the amount of money they can spend to influence elections, corporations and secret billionaires are going to be tipping the democratic scales wherever they smell profit.

That means it will be much, much harder for politicians of any ideological stripe to solve society’s problems. The richest corporations have the most political purchasing power, and the companies with the most money are those that have thrived under the status quo -- however destructive that state of affairs may be to society at large. This money will go to keeping things the way they are -- not toward creating jobs, improving education, expanding access to health care, stopping ecological catastrophe or anything else.

Citizens United 101

We spoke with Jesse Zwick of The Washington Independent about the nuts and bolts of Citizens United and secret campaign cash. In the below video, Zwick details the potential impact of secret money -- and how citizens and legislature can curb the effects of this historic ruling.

Bare-bones, anti-Citizens United legislation might still have a shot

So what can be done? Earlier this year, Republicans successfully filibustered legislation that would have forced corporations to disclose their political spending and require front-groups to divulge the identities of their donors. But as Jesse Zwick emphasizes for The Washington Independent, there’s still one more opportunity to push a bare-bones version of the bill through Congress. Democrats will retain their broad Congressional majorities until January 2011, when the candidates elected last night formally take up office. If Democrats see which way the corporate wind is blowing, they’ll flex their political muscles one last time to get a disclosure bill through Congress. There are many things that people are reluctant to do in public that they have the political right to do. If lawmakers can remove the anonymity from corporate and elite political spending, some of the Citizens United damage could be reversed.

If not, 2012 is going to be even uglier than last night.

But wait, there’s more!

-- Amie Newman of RH Reality Check reports that a last-minute mailer funded by outside group The Citizens for Responsible Spending attacked Washington state Sen. Rodney Tom, citing his pro-women’s rights and pro-LGBT positions. Tom ended up losing his seat last night.

-- California upheld its environmental protection law by defeating Proposition 23, despite the fact that oil companies funneled nearly $10 million to pass the measure, reports Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones.

-- As Dave Gilson details for Mother Jones, outside spending worked overwhelmingly in favor of Republican candidates in key races.

    This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the mid-term elections and campaign financing by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit The Media Consortium for more articles on these issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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