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Corporate Cash, 'Opposition Research' and More: Untold Stories of Campaign 2010

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As we all have learned from watching candidates in both parties mouth patriotic pieties, America is the greatest country in the history of the universe -- and carbon-based life forms in other galaxies all dream of adopting our Way of Life.
You know what is perhaps our crowning national accomplishment? Allowing anyone, even the rankest amateur, to feel like a campaign insider by merely spending 11 hours each day scanning political websites and then devouring the evening's fight card of debates on C-Span.
America's bounty goes beyond the easy stuff like making odd-duck candidates like Christine O'Donnell and Carl Paladino so famous they could team up as cable TV hosts after they are inevitably defeated in November. The true glory of our democracy is that we are also awash in sophisticated analysis about everything from the cell-phone problem in polling to the subtle differences in the congressional race rating systems of Charlie Cook and Stu Rothenberg. Nowhere does a poll fall in a forest of data without someone to tweet it.
Woman going to polls in early voting For all our smug mastery of Campaign 2010 -- and the poll-propelled feeling that the actual election is redundant -- it is unsettling how much in politics is happening beneath the waterline. In an era of parched budgets for news organizations and with an estimated $5 billion being lavished on political persuasion in this campaign cycle, it is impossible for even the most talented and dedicated political reporters to keep up with the onslaught of deceptive ads, shadowy funding sources, and torpedo tactics. The inevitable result: On Election Day, we will know who has won but many of the real reasons why will remain shrouded in mystery.
Every fearful scenario raised by campaign reformers in January when the Supreme Court upheld corporate political advertising in the Citizens United decision is fast coming true. The realistic danger is not -- despite hyperbolic White House claims -- that Hezbollah or even (quelle horreur!) the French will dominate the airwaves through hidden corporate machinations. Instead, the risk to democracy is from the invisible hand of domestic corporate interests motivated by crass considerations like maintaining their federal subsidies.
A recent New York Times story, which received far less attention than it deserved, tried to trace the undisclosed funding sources of the deceptively named American Future Fund. (According to ad-buy research by the Wesleyan Media Project, the American Future Fund purchased 4,567 political TV commercials during the five-week period ending Oct. 7). The group, which operates out of a rented mailbox in an Iowa UPS store, apparently was organized by the chief executive of a large ethanol company. Almost all the Democratic incumbents targeted by the American Future Fund sit -- by chance -- on congressional committees that oversee ethanol.
Perhaps you have noticed how many first-time political candidates have been embarrassed by little things like hard-to-forget Nazi uniforms and half-forgotten risqué photographs in the closing weeks of the campaign. Long-shot Ohio GOP House candidate Rich Iott's penchant for dressing up in SS regalia is the kind of fun hobby that most staid campaign consultants prefer that their clients avoid. Krystal Ball, who was not going to win her Virginia House race in a difficult year for Democrats in any case, was mortified and then enraged when hard-to-explain 2004 reindeer-related party photos suddenly popped on Facebook and Republican blogs.
Such is the power of well-timed opposition research to distract and destroy campaigns. After spending $3.4 million of his own money to topple Democratic House incumbent Betty Sutton in Ohio, GOP car dealer Tom Ganley was accused of sexual assault in a lawsuit two weeks ago. Maybe the timing of the litigation was coincidental (feel free to insert your own snort of disbelief), but it is a safe prediction that this is now one House seat, in Northeast Ohio, that the Republicans are not destined to win.
Both parties practice these black arts of oppo research -- and they often use news organizations as their willing co-conspirators. When the New York Times in May broke the story that Connecticut Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal had wrongly claimed that he had served in Vietnam, two Republican candidates (Linda McMahon and her primary rival Rob Simmons) tried to take public credit for leaking the information. (The Times contended that it unearthed the story independently).
With nearly 100 Senate and House seats in play -- a far broader canvas than in most campaign years -- the potential opportunities for undetected dirty tricks would make even Richard Nixon envious. There is no way that the national press corps -- let alone local papers with decimated newsrooms -- will be able to keep track of the bipartisan political mischief. It is a safe and sad bet that House races will be decided by push polls (destructive rumors spread by campaign operatives pretending to be objective survey-takers) and scurrilous leaflets put on windshields in church parking lots on the Sunday before the election.
The biggest untold story of Campaign 2010 is the most obvious -- the way that campaign consultants in both parties are getting even richer from the no-recession-here explosion in campaign spending.
National politics can be cynically seen as an elaborate income-transfer program taking money from wealthy donors (and now corporate treasuries) and redistributing it to TV stations and needy political operatives. Most fees to outside campaign consultants (particularly the fraction of the TV ad budgets that go to media-production firms) are virtually impossible to decipher from Federal Election Commission reports. Not only are donors to corporate-backed groups like Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS (which just announced that it will spend $50 million in the final weeks of the campaign on House races) hidden, but also secret are the financial arrangements with the ad-makers. On Election Night, there almost certainly will be media consultants, campaign strategists, and pollsters who will be lifting champagne flutes to toast the Citizens United decision.
Money is often what separates true political insiders from eager armchair experts who never miss watching "Morning Joe" and can recite the polling averages from Real Clear Politics in their sleep. Politics, in a sense, has become a sport like baseball. You can brandish all the statistics sitting in the stands, but to truly understand the game it helps to play (and be paid) like Derek Jeter.
Back in the 1950s, the Saturday Evening Post (the magazine best remembered for its Norman Rockwell covers) had a regular feature called "So You Think You Know Baseball?" about the obscure rules of the game. With the final weeks of Campaign 2010 likely to be influenced by shadowy forces and subterranean tactics, it might be time to cut through the fog of poll-based pseudo-certainty with an updated version called "So You Think You Know Politics?"

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4 Comments

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warren

Republicans controlled both houses of congress from 1995 till 2007 except for 2001-2003 when there was a 50/50 divide in the senate.When people say things it should be true not just talking points.We while not even mention veto proof majorities or senate filibusters.

October 18 2010 at 7:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
danny

American polical campaigns have always been loaded with "dirty tricks," and personal slander of candidates. And, campaigns have always been funded by special interests - individuals, corporations, unions, and even government funded groups with an interest in how the government spends its money and/or tax policy. I don't think there is any question but that our Congress and even the Presidency is bought and paid for by big money. Does it influence the laws they make? Of course it does. How else explain the tepid financial reform bill enacted, or the healthcare legislation that adds umpteen million people to insurance company rolls [Note: I'm a registered Republican) In order to attract more "public service" candidates, we need to greatly decrease the influence that money has on campaign finance. I suggest we ban all political advertising which does little to inform and much to inflame, and replace it with "Patriot Week" or "Patriot Month" During Patriot Week, we could have candidates attending web based forums held in schools, universities, community centers, et al where citizens can ask the questions. And, because television is so much of a universal medium in our society, during Patriot Week all of the major cable and broadcast networks would be required to provide 3 hours per day of prime time for debates among all candidates for national office.

October 18 2010 at 12:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rickpetersonms

How about this. 1)One term then you're out. 2)Any gain in net worth during thse 4 years or the next 10 years as a civilian is taxed 100% (I.E. confiscated). This auta cut down on outright bribes as well as trading favors with other politicians on both sides of the isle. I think it owuld add meaning to the term, "Public Servant". As Sharon Angle pointed out, Harry Reed came into the senate with no money 30 years ago and now he's one of the richest guys in this exclusive club. How does that happen to an honest man?

October 17 2010 at 9:46 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
upcreek

Right, the Dems have had their own way with donations including those from foreign sources. So Republicans shut up and let unions buy office holders. It's always been done that way. I own stock in a cooperation and would like to exercise my first amendment rights. Go GOP

October 17 2010 at 7:21 PM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply
olestormy

I feel strongly feel that this country has a long way to go before we realize the freedoms we so loudly espouse. US history, for me, is a big case of "we talk the talk but don't walk the walk" There has been a lack of freedom since the beginning of our history. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights was written by well-meaning men who because of religious beliefs, didn't consider Negro's and Native Americans as human beings. Honesty and integrity are lacking in this country. Many, including at least one president, fathered children from their female slaves. Various religious sects have disavowed one another from the beginning. Catholics were feared and mistreated until Kennedy was elected. We screwed the Native Americans and many Mexicans out of their land. The only people who realized the American dream, until about 60 years ago, were white protestant males. We need to get religion out of politics. Religious faith has, and still is, killing more people than most serious epidemics. We need to start, here and around the world, an educational system that teaches the "big bang" and evolution are real. When mankind accepts the fact that the supernatural start of this universe and mankind, is not the God of the Torah, the Koran, the Bible, or the Book of Mormon, we may be on the way to peace. It is going to happen. Unfortunately it will take generations and millions more will die for their faith before it does. In 2000, the Human Genome Project finally answered one of the most fundamental questions about race: What, if anything, is the genetic difference between people of different skin colors -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian? The answer: nearly nothing. As it turns out, we all share 99.99 percent of the same genetic code -- no matter our race -- a fact that, geneticist J. Craig Venter claimed, proves that race is a "social concept, not a scientific one."

October 17 2010 at 5:52 PM Report abuse -16 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to olestormy's comment
Yosh

Meg Whitman, Guber race against Brown Ca., spent a $140 millions (own money, unlike Brown),and she will NOT going to gave a favoritism, especially to the Unions,if she win this election. That is the "fair and true" politician.

October 17 2010 at 5:03 PM Report abuse +20 rate up rate down Reply
conservgirl8

I'm sorry but this is an extremely biased piece. I want to read about truth and here we get nothing but one sided drivel. I'm sick to death about the hyped up bias against American Corporations as being the demons. They are not. The Democrats have accept corporate monies as well and for once, I'd like to see that truth. The Democrats are going to lose big time because of this overt display of dishonesty and hypocracy. It may not happen in this election cycle but it will eventually. If Americans allow this ever to happen again, we deserve the worst of the worst for ourselves. It is appalling and degrading and criminal.

October 17 2010 at 12:55 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
oldengineera2

The problems stem from Big Government's deep intertwining with commercial activity. When government has the power to arbitrarily pick economic winners and losers, big money emerges to influence the call. Democrat politicians "get" this. They rely on the fact that Democrat voters do not.

October 17 2010 at 8:34 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
John Vilvens

Unions, community groups and nonprofit do not have to tell where thier funds come from. This game has been played by the dems for a while. They are upset now because the supreme court leveled the playing field. You want chamber to disclose, I want unions to disclose. Soros is he a outside source. Acorn recieved federal funding did they donate and would that be against the law to take government money then to donate to a party? Man up the playing field is level now, each side has thier donnors

October 17 2010 at 7:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
eyeforeye42

I think I might want to give up my rights as a US citizen and become a US corporation. Only 1 down side (you can't personally vote) but the upsides are legion. You can buy influence and take it as a write off. They will pay you to establish residence in a town and give you reduced if no taxes. You get subsidies and as head, you almost never go to jail. What is the down side? This last supreme court decision made them more human than humans.

October 17 2010 at 7:43 AM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to eyeforeye42's comment
rickpetersonms

Actually a C-Corp (typically 20 or more employees) pays tax on what it earns and and then it's shareholders pay tax AGAIN on their personal returns if they take any money out of the corporation. An S-Corp (which many small business's of Joe the Plumber's size are) flows the tax straight through to the shareholders as personal income. I'm not in favor of large corporations (or unions) bribing politicians, but demonizing them by saying they don't pay taxes is pure B.S.

October 17 2010 at 9:40 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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