Money for mud in lead-up to US midterms

The US mid-terms have come as a big blow to Obama administration. Although the Democrats retained their majority in the Senate, the Republicans have won control over the House of Representatives.

With Congress divided between the two parties, it will make it much harder for President Obama to go forward with his legislative agenda.

But many voters have other concerns: they are worried about the corporate bankrolling of candidates, after vast amounts of campaign cash was poured into these elections.

“He is using special interest money to throw mud at his opponent!” This is a typical attack ad from this election season.

Except the opponent who approved the ad is herself an expert in mud-slinging, and the organization that backs her is funded by billionaires.

This election cycle has been notorious for the amount of dirt candidates have been pouring on each other.

This is a special election year in the US. For the first time, corporations are allowed to funnel as much money as they want into political campaigns – and they are definitely not missing out on the chance to buy influence on Capitol Hill.

“What they’re hoping to do is bend laws and regulations, or prevent new laws and regulations from being approved that will cut their bottom lines,” says Zach Carter, economics editor for alternet.org. “The problem is a lot of these rules and regulations exist for a purpose. They’re supposed to protect the public interest.”

The election system in the US is such that it is virtually impossible to run for office without strong financial backing. But the bigger the backing, the more candidates owe to their benefactors.

“It increases enormously the inequality in influencing policymaking, in influencing the legal process, in influencing the regulatory process because those who are behind all these contributions is not just citizens of the United States, but basically the most powerful and the richest segment of the population,” says Daniel Kaufmann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

To see the influence in action, look at Republican leader in the House of Representative, John A. Boehner.

Wall Street has invested millions of dollars in his campaign. He is also a darling among large health insurers, oil firms and drug manufacturers.

Boehner is campaigning against all kinds of government regulations, as well as a tax increase for the rich.

Another candidate running for re-election, Republican Congressman Spencer Bachus is a ranking member of a House Committee on financial services.

He has reportedly taken over US$4 million from Wall Street, and pledged to fight against tougher rules for the financial market.

The list of corporate favorites on the Capitol Hill is long, and not only Republicans are on it.

“The democratic process is supposed to be a check on corporate power. Instead what we’re seeing is corporations hijacking that system in order to funnel more money to themselves,” Zach Carter says.

Many argue that the new Supreme Court decision, which made it possible for corporations to invest unlimited amounts of money in politics, and be able to be credited as anonymous donors, has basically legalized corruption.

“One definition of corruption is the privatization of public policy,” Daniel Kaufmann maintains.

Fear mongering is arguably the main tool corporations use to gain public support for the candidates they choose.

Some channels, like Fox news, are especially good at getting their message across. And it is fear that pushes people to the streets.

And some fear their interests may be left out because of someone else’s special interests.

Scott McLarty, a national spokesman for the US Green Party, agrees that the political race has neglected the American people.

"Corporate money has poisoned our democracy. We are seeing an erosion of responsibility to the American people and disregard for well-being of the people and the health of our nation," he says.

Executive director of the Libertarian Party Wes Benedict is another firm believer that it's time for Americans to have more than just two parties to choose from.

“Here in the US it's harder for third parties to win elections, but even in cases when we don't win we help to get a message out there, and that's what our party has done significantly in recent years. The thing with the Republicans and Democrats is that they have a chance of winning, that's why a lot of special interests gets behind them, be it corporate money, or Unions, or other special interests,” Benedict told RT.

This year, the results of the campaign also depend upon the support by various outside groups and organizations that have special interests on the left or on the right, noted David Levinthal from Center for Responsive Politics.

There is a concern among many people that politicians who receive a considerable amount of money from a particular industry, or a particular union or special interest group, are going to be beholding to that group when they get into Congress,” he explained to RT.

Shoveling millions into the election campaign is a scorched-earth approach to politics, believes Thomas Andrews, a former Congressman.

The problem that we’re going to face is that these candidates who are now being elected, who have been running on the basis of this very high octane rhetoric, are not going to be in opposition or feel they are going to be comfortable in compromising and engaging in the kind of ‘give and take that you need’ in order to make government work,” Andrews told RT.

Voters did not vote necessarily for the Republicans. More likely they voted out of fear and anger against Obama and the Democrats, out of fear of what is happening with the economy and with jobs, believes Steve Leser, editor of Op-ed News.com.

The biggest question now is how the Republicans are going to make the transition from agitating to governing, as “some sort of fray at the edges” can already be seen in the party itself.

Although during the election campaign the Republicans have been united against the common foe, Leser foresees that, “Almost right away, with the decisions about budget, you’re going to see some of their major problems erupt between the more moderate Old Guard of the Republican Party and the radical Tea Party.

Congress could actually help to keep the US democracy from falling into abuse by corporate hands if during the lame duck session it requires the companies to disclose which elections they are trying to buy, suggests Zach Carter, AlterNet's economics editor.

There are a lot of things that people are legally allowed to do in public, but they won’t do them when other people are watching them. And I think that purchasing elections is one of them. So, if Congress does something like that, that would be very helpful,” Carter told RT.

The newly-elected Republicans will have to meet the Democrats half way, simply in order to stay in power, believes Robert Weiner, former White House staffer.

If you combine it all, we [the Democrats] still have the majority between the President, the Senate and half the House. So, the Republicans have to deal with us. And if they try, as President Obama said, to block everything, if they are just a party of NO, the American people will not stand for that either,” he told RT.

US radio host Scott Horton from the Antiwar.com website has pointed out Obama's goal to reduce the amount of nuclear arms could now be undermined.

“They’ve changed the counting methods for the nuclear warheads in such a way that actually the United States does not really have to reduce their stockpile of nuclear weapons at all,” Horton told RT. “So they’ve turned what ought to be the most important issue in the world – the mutual reduction of American-Russian nuclear weapon stockpiles – towards zero and turned it into a farce, turned it into a way for the Republican Congressmen […] to keep the companies manufacturing nuclear weapons […] at the expense of the rest of us and at the risk of our entire species in fact.”