OP-ED | The Summer of Our Discontent
When my kids were young, I always took them into the privacy of the voting booth with me so they could see democracy at work.
I’d try to explain to them in an age appropriate way why I was voting for the candidate I was choosing, and I’d let them help me pull the lever. For all their faults, it’s something I miss about the old voting booths because with the new OCR machines you can’t replicate that mystery and excitement.
This is the first year my son, a dual US/EU citizen who maintains a keen interest in domestic and international politics and history, will be voting in a federal election. We’d looked forward to this event with eager anticipation. Yet now the time has come, our conversations no longer reflect the confidence and optimism I tried to instill in my kids when I took them into the voting booth with years ago ago – the belief that every vote matters and truly reflects the voice of the American people.
That was then. This is now.
If Obama’s election in 2008 was notable for record campaign contributions, about 25% of which came from an enthusiastic base of grassroots donors who donated less than $200, 2012, the first presidential contest post the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, will be notable for the astounding sums spent by a small group of billionaires.
Just look at the spending numbers thus far for the 2012 cycle. These figures are even more gobsmacking when you realize how much of that money comes from a small number of exceedingly wealthy individuals.
Wealth has its privileges, of course. David Koch, who with his brother Charles is one of the “biggest behind the scenes players in Republican politics” is going to be a Romney delegate at the Republican Convention.
We saw the deleterious effect of post-Citizen United money here in CT in 2010 when American Action Network was forced to withdraw an ad against Congressman Chris Murphy due to unsubstantiated claims. American Action Network spent $1 million in an unsuccessful attempt to topple Murphy.
The 5th Congressional District is the site of another ugly SuperPAC gang war this cycle. Novice Dan Roberti is a case in point. After claiming in an April debate that “Citizen’s United is the worst decision since Bush vs. Gore” Roberti has been aided greatly by an out of state SuperPac, New Directions for America, which is spending more than $413,000 running attack ads against his Democratic primary opponents, Elizabeth Esty and Chris Donovan.
His hypocrisy would be hilarious if it weren’t being duplicated state and country wide.
Esty, who criticized Roberti for his SuperPac, is being aided by a $275,000 TV ad buy from Women Vote!, the SuperPac associated with Emily’s List, as well as $38,000 spend on mailers.
Then of course there are the candidates who don’t need a SuperPac because they just throw their own money into the race. Linda McMahon obviously doesn’t like the dirty business of raising money, because she’s got the dubious distinction of being the second biggest self-funder of this election cycle behind Texas Lt. Gov David Dewhurst, who lost the recent Republican Senate primary to Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz. She’s contributed $8.8 million to her own campaign this cycle (a drop in the bucket compared to 2010’s $50million to be sure, but still well beyond the means of your average candidate) , which constitutes 90% of what her campaign has raised to date. It doesn’t say much about grassroots support.
When it comes to throwing personal wealth at your campaign, that’s another area the 5th Congressional District has turned into a three-ring circus.
Let’s run down the candidates:
Mark Greenberg (R ) : $1.5 million
Dan Roberti (D): $835K
Lisa Wilson-Foley ( R ) : $685K
Elizabeth Esty: (D) $500K
Because of this, my son is growing up without the optimism and sense of pride I felt as a new voter He feels that most politicians are “corporate shills.” It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to argue against his thesis. But I tell him if he doesn’t vote, he doesn’t have a right to complain. That as depressed as I am about politics during this summer of discontent and disillusionment, I’ll still be there filling in my bubble come primary day and Election Day. That sadly, sometimes it’s a matter of figuring out the “least worst” option and making a hold your nose vote.
Maybe it takes someone outside the two party system to give a voice to the rest of us. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has proposed an amendment to reverse the destructive Citizen United decision. Over 1.7 million Americans have signed a petition asking Congress to pass such an amendment.
Unlike the politicized Justices of today’s SCOTUS, we believe what the late Justice Louis D. Brandeis said long ago: “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.