In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that the first amendment prohibits restrictions on political spending by corporations, associations or labor unions. According to Kenneth Vogel, this is essentially what allowed American politics to be run by a few willing billionaires.
In the 2012 elections, outside groups spent $2.5 billion on campaign contributions, the first time these groups have outspent political party committees.
“It was a real milestone in the migration of money and power from the political parties to this roving band of billionaires who are able to control elections and the political policy process,” says Vogel, author of Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp — On the Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics.
So who are these billionaires who are influencing national politics? It’s hard to tell says Vogel. “As the money has migrated to these outside groups, disclosure requirements have become less and less…a lot of this money is spent in secret," Vogel says in the video above.
To write his book, Vogel attempted to find these donors, which often got him in a bit of trouble. After attempting to drive to David and Charles Koch's post-2012 donor seminar, Vogel found himself in a bad situation.
"They weren’t too keen on having me and their security ushered me out and then reported my car to the sheriffs office as suspicious," he remembers.
In the book, Vogel lays out details about secretive conclaves organized by powerful forces at both ends of the political spectrum. The agendas of the meetings ranged from congressional and presidential politics to internal party power struggles.
The "summits" have one thing in common, regardless of party affiliation: The guest lists include some of the wealthiest and most influential power players in American business and politics. In addition to the Koch brothers on the right, there is just as much money and power on the left with bold-faced names like George Soros who attended seminars organized by the left's answer to the Kochs - the Democracy Alliance - a group of about 100 wealthy Democrats who, according to Vogel, "get together twice a year for multiday conferences at lavish hotels to talk about how to divvy up their millions to make America a more progressive place."
Since its founding in 2005, members of the group have steered more than $500 million to liberal causes, writes Vogel in "Big Money."
He also points out that overall, the influence of wealthy donors dwarfs the small donor.
"In the 2012 election all told, roughly eight million small donors gave a total of about $500 million to Obama, Romney, and the main groups that back them," Vogel writes. "It took only forty-six hundred big donors to match that tally."
So with all the secret meetings and billions of dollars in donations flowing into political coffers, does the average American still have a voice in the political arena?
“The voters ultimately get the final say,” says Vogel. "[The Koch brothers] spent an unprecedented $400 million in 2012 trying to defeat Barack Obama. Well, Barack Obama won. There is a tendency to say ‘maybe the big money isn’t having that much impact, but I think that misses the point that beyond... election night the policy debates are being shaped by these big donors.’”
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