You might want to sit down for this bit of news: a record four BILLION dollars is expected to be spent on this year's midterm elections, according to an Oct. 27 estimate by the non-partisan watchdog group, Center for Responsive Politics.
The political party out of power traditionally makes gains during the mid-term elections in a president's first term - and all the polls indicate that on Tuesday the Democrats could lose control of the House of Representatives by up to 60 seats. The Democrats are expected to retain control of the Senate - if they win California and Washington state. But the over-arching story of Election 2010 is not just voter anger and the Tea Party movement - it's the corruption of that purest of democratic ideals - that one-person, one-vote can counter the buying of any election.
"If at the end of the day, there is a [nationwide Republican] 'red' wave, it stops at the shore of California," Eric Bauman, the openly gay vice chair of the California Democratic Party and chair of the LA Democratic Party, told me. (He's pictured here with Sen. Barbara Boxer) Even in the "too-close-to-call" races such as for state Attorney General, "if people vote for fairness and equality," Democrats will win.
But countering the massive false advertising claims in last minute ads by independent expenditure groups that do not disclose their donors is frustrating Democratic politicians. It was a point Sen. Barbara Boxer made during a stop in West Hollywood and again appearing with union workers in Los Angeles on Sunday. "They won't even say who they are," Boxer said of the mysterious groups. "What are they so afraid of? I'm only five feet tall."
The "major milepost in influencing U.S. political elections" surpasses the money spent in the 2004 election cycle with Republican President George W. Bush seeking re-election against Democratic Sen. John Kerry - not to mention all the congressional races and antigay state initiatives that year. "Overall this cycle, outside groups, including the national party committees, unions, trade associations, nonprofits and "super PACs" such as American Crossroads, have so far favored Republicans. Conservative-oriented groups have spent $1.34 for every $1 liberal-affiliated groups have spent, the Center's data show," a story on the Center's website reports.
"And the Republican outside spending advantage is even more pronounced: Republican-aligned and conservative groups so far this election season have spent $2.12 for every $1 that Democratic-aligned and liberal groups have spent, according to the Center's analysis."
The Democratic Party, however, has done well this year- spending $782 million compared with the Republican Party's $515 million.
But while party committees may be restricted to funding limits, the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling that money equals individual free speech has enabled "corporations, trade associations, unions and nonprofits...to raise unlimited contributions for political messages — and numerous corporations and wealthy individuals have invested millions to fund advertisements this year. Funding political advertisements with such high-dollar donations was previously illegal."
Major industries have switched allegiance, too, the Center reports, with the healthcare industry now giving 60% of its money to Republicans after the healthcare reform bill, compared to two thirds of its dollars previously going to Democrats. Wall Street and the energy sectors have also shifted their campaign spending from Democrats to Republicans.
“I think they’ve got their finger in the air. I think they’re looking at the changing poll numbers and seeing that the Republicans have a clear shot at taking the majority, particularly in the House,” Center Executive Director Sheila Krumholz told CNN.
Apparently, the Supreme Court thought corporate contributions would be subject to disclosure laws. But election experts say that tax loopholes and a weak Federal Election Commission has enabled corporations and big spenders to give huge sums for campaign ads, without fear of public exposure. “The biggest change this year is that it is no longer possible to identify the individuals who are responsible for funding election communications,” said Karl J. Sandstrom, a former FEC commissioner who advises Democrats on election law, told the LA Times.
The Citizens United ruling has also enabled the rise of political action groups, such as Republican strategist Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and Dick Morris' Super PAC for America that have raised and spent millions for their favorite candidates and issues.
Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC chairman who opposes campaign finance laws, told The Times, “Voters do know who is funding the ads -- every single one of them." He noted that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads GPS have disclosed its spending on election ads, though not the identity of their donors. “Is there anybody who doesn’t know where the chamber is coming from?” Smith asked. “None of this troubles me in the least.”
Who's contributing to whom and for what reason is an issue with which the LGBT community is familiar.
Fred Karger, the openly gay political consultant who is now seriously considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination, exposed the millions of dollars funneled into Protect Marriage and the Yes on 8 campaign by the Catholic and Mormon churches. Karger filed suit against the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) for violating state campaign laws and subsequently worked with the Courage Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign to create the ongoing watchdog money-tracking effort NOMExposed.
The political and legal tactic buck state and federal campaign disclosure laws came out of the Prop 8 campaign when NOM and Protect Marriage complained that their donors should be protected from retaliation by No on Prop 8 supporters. The tactic carried over to the federal Prop 8 trial where some of the witnesses for the proponents of Prop 8 refused to testify if the trial was broadcast outside the courtroom. The US Supreme Court upheld their request, albeit more because they said District Court Judge Vaughn Walker had not followed some court rules. NOM and Protect Marriage ran with their successful "victims" meme into other arenas.
How seriously should these outside interest groups be taken? Well, the powerful and once logically safe Barney Frank is worried. In fact, he's contributed $200,000 to his own campaign and National Stonewall Democrats has an ACT BLUE page to help raise money for him.
“Rep. Barney Frank is in a tough fight against a candidate who doesn't believe in marriage equality, doesn't believe DADT should be repealed and doesn't think ENDA is a good idea. National Stonewall Democrats is standing up to help the "father of our organization" by helping get the word out this warrior for equality needs our help.”
This is from an email fundraising appeal from Dick Morris:
"You may have read the extraordinary news that Barney Frank felt he had to personally loan his own campaign fund $200,000, adding to the almost $3 million he had raised from fat-cat donors. This means he's sweating. He's worried he could lose. Believe it or not, Barney Frank could lose his seat. He's in trouble because he's the poster child for the mortgage mess and the housing collapse."
Morris goes on to report that:
"Washington insiders are telling me that as many as 75 Democrats could be defeated and that a total of 113 Democrats are vulnerable! This is like a live auction. Do I hear a bid for 100?
The more you give, the more damaged trees we can chop down. We're almost up to the $4 million mark. For each extra $1 million we raise, we can beat seven more Democrats! I must make additional ad buys for this weekend, the Super Bowl weekend for congressional politics!"
Other Republicans have been equally giddy and candid about what these midterms could mean for the Tea Party-GOP. For instance, Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the National Journal magazine that “the single most important thing we want to achieve [after winning back the majority in Congress] is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
And House Minority Leader John Boehner vowed that Republicans will not “compromise on our principles” if they win the majority in the House. Boehner is expected to replace Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Given the angry tenor of activist Tea Partiers, an article in the recent issue of the conservative New Republic magazine suggests that a Tea Party-GOP controlled House "will most certainly try to impeach President Obama, regardless if the future offense merits such action or not." [Emphasis mine]
This is the electoral climate today. It is an atmosphere where an independent ad on Spanish language TV for GOP candidate Carly Fiorina can claim that liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer voted against immigration reform, which PoliticFact.com called "misleading." While few mainstream media outlets reported on the lie and hence some critical Latino voters could believe that - hopefully they read La Opinion, which endorsed Boxer on Oct. 27.
Boxer stopped by a get out the vote effort organized in 24 hours by Stonewall Democratic Club in West Hollywood. "What you're doing here is crucial," Boxer said, noting that the voters know "what's at stake in this election." (See a video from Patch/West Hollywood.
Stonewall Democratic Club president John Cleary noted that Boxer's campaign called with 36 hours notice because "she wanted to talk to the LGBT community." Apparently she was somewhat surprised to see a nice turnout from straight seniors, too, many of whom receive notices from or are members of Stonewall. Boxer said she should be sent back because of all the issues at stake in the election - from DADT to off shore drilling and the energy initiative funded by two Texas oil companies - vote NO on Prop 23, she said.
I noted the national LGBT disappointment with President Obama and asked for her reaction to the disruptions of her events by GetEqual. Boxer didn't really answer the question, saying only "This is MY campaign and my election!" Later Cleary said that he was surprised that someone from GetEqual didn't attend the event, but added that someone told him that GE was only protesting Obama, not Boxer.
After Boxer turned away from me, Bauman jumped in and said, "There is NO enthusiasm gap here!" His energetic retort was greeted with applause.
Boxer mentioned how she stood up for the effort to repeal DADT — and pass the DREAM Act, which provided a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants - both of which failed to pass as attachments to the Defense Authorization bill. Boxer took her disappointment to the Senate floor - you can see that video here.
As both Boxer and Bauman noted, the latest poll may have her up over Fiorina by five points - but nothing matters until those votes are cast. MoveOn.org is still calling for volunteers for her campaign.
Politicians have tried to buy California votes before - most notably in 1998 when rich Al Checchi and Jane Harman ran for the Democratic nomination for governor - which was finally won by not-so-rich Gray Davis who had a great ground operation (thanks in no small part to Eric Bauman). Now California is seeing a barrage of ads from Karl Rove's American Crossroads for Fiorina and continued self-financing by former eBay CEO Meg Whitman who has spent $140 million of her own money against Democratic rival Jerry Brown in the California gubernatorial race - a match that is now a statistical dead heat. It didn't help Whitman's campaign that she was booed loudly at the California Women's Conference when she refused to agree with Brown to take down their negative ads. (See the video of the exchange here.)
The Attorney General's race is also a statistical dead heat in many polls. San Francisco DA Kamala Harris - who the national media calls "the female Obama" – is running against Republican Steve Cooley, who is in his third term as LA County DA. Both candidates are targeting LA voters, without whom one cannot win a statewide election.
Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, thinks a Harris win is critical for marriage equality and LGBT civil rights.
"The attorney general and governor have the power to determine whether our taxpayer dollars will be spent defending Prop. 8 in court or whether the State of California will continue to stand on the side of equality and justice," Kors wrote recently.
"Where do the candidates stand? Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris have promised not to stand on the side of bigotry and hatred. Both have vowed not to defend Prop. 8 in court and to advocate for full equality. Because of their strong support for marriage equality and for a myriad of other rights critical to securing full equality for LGBT people, they have been endorsed by Equality California. If elected, we can count on them to be our champions.
Meg Whitman and Steve Cooley have both promised to defend discrimination. Rather than supporting the rights of all Californians to be treated equally under the law, they would seek to set aside the sweeping federal district court ruling declaring that laws banning marriage equality violated the United States Constitution -- a powerful ruling that has national implications in the fight for equality. Whitman and Cooley are willing to put the U.S. Constitution aside to pander to right wing interests."
One interesting point here: Cooley said he would defend Prop 8 because it's state law. However, in a report aired Sunday, he told a KCBS reporter that if Prop 19 - the initiative to decriminalize marijuana - was passed by voters and made state law - Cooley would NOT defend that law. Prop 8 has been declared unconstitutional in a federal district court; marijuana is considered as significant a drug as heroin and is against federal law.
US Attorney General Eric Holder has already announced that he will enforce the anti-pot law with the full force of the federal government, if Prop 19 passes. While the ballot initiative is considered poorly written and problematic by many - including suggestions that school bus drivers could then legally smoke pot – Prop 19 supporters say it would encourage an agri-business with hemp and other purposes for cannibus that can be taxed and regulated. This is a difficult measure to poll since so many supporters are younger people who do not see the evils of marijuana and use cell phones, which pollsters don't call. Ironically, there has not been much money spent on this measure until recently.
An important California race that hasn't received much attention is for state Insurance Commissioner. Democratic Assembly Dave Jones is running against Republican Mike Villines - with the insurance industry pouring more than million in Villines' race, according to the Sacramento Bee. Jones not only has the credentials for this job - but has valiantly tried to prevent state budget cuts into AIDS programs such as the AIDS Drug Assistance Program.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported last Wednesday:
"A television advertisement praises Republican candidate for insurance commissioner Mike Villines as a man who “will stop insurance companies from canceling policies for people who get sick.” There’s only one catch: The ad is paid for by insurance companies, even though the televised disclosure states it is, “Paid for by Jobspac, a bipartisan coalition of California employers.”
In fact, $3.8 million from insurance companies paid for the advertisement, including $150,000 from Anthem Blue Cross, the poster child for canceling sick patients when they are sickest.
Only the savvy student of the California secretary of state’s website will ever know insurance companies are trying to elect the commissioner who will regulate them. The campaign contributions are hidden from public view by the largest dirty money laundry machine in American history, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is now targeting electoral races all across America with big corporate cash and similar tactics."
Check out the Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.org website for more on misleading ads nationally and the $3 billion being spent this year.
Only two things can counter the massive influx of money trying to buy this year's midterm election on Nov. 2: transparency and your vote.
VOTER GUIDES for CALIFORNIA/LA
Stonewall Democratic Club
Log Cabin Republicans
Los Angeles County Democratic Party
Additionally, for progressives there is a website called Call Out the Vote – a Get Out The Vote effort coordinated by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America working to elect or re-elect targeted leaders such as progressive caucus co-chair and strong ally Raul Grijalva. It enables you to make calls from home via their site.
For more on the national races of interest to the LGBT community, check out Lisa Keen's "13 Races to Worry About Nov. 2" and the Washington Blade and MetroWeekly, as well.
And if you're still so angry and disappointed about the lack of movement on LGBT equality, please read David Mixner's piece: "Vote As If Your Life Depends On It Because It Does...."
FOR LA VOTERS – if you need help finding your polling place or have any other questions about the election, visit the LA County Registrar of Voters.
A version of this story was posted on Frontiersweb.com.