Keeping the Corporate Welfare Train Running
The Center for Responsive Politics released its report on campaign spending for the 2012 elections last week, and though there are no shocking revelations, it is a grim reminder why we should not expect to see Congress enact significant reform during the budget debates.
The Democratic proposal from the Senate is a great example, basically saying that our fiscal approach is sound and we don't really need to change anything. I thought The Washington Post's Ezra Klein summarized it well:
"The surprise when comparing the House Republicans' budget and the Senate Democrats' budget is just how much more conservative the Democratic effort is. I don't mean ideologically conservative, of course. I mean conservative in the sense that the dictionary defines it: 'disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.'"
The House Republican budget is more "aggressive," but while Rep. Paul Ryan talks about closing loopholes and reducing spending, we should accept his assertions with a considered examination of whose loopholes get closed, given that Ryan is one of the largest recipients of PAC funding.
When the center added up the final 2012 campaign reports, they totaled expenditures of $6.3 billion spent in the efforts to keep, or take, a seat in Washington, almost 10 percent higher than the oversight group estimated would be spent when it made its midyear projections.
And it seems like a lot of money, but I would say the folks who are buying these elections are getting them pretty cheap; $6.3 billion is 0.0004 percent of the 2012 gross national product. I'd say it is a heck of return on investment to keep the corporate welfare train running.
Candidates for seats in the House of Representatives spent about $1 billion in 2012, with Republican candidates outspending their Democratic opponents $532 million to $447 million.
The two women representing Tennessee have been the most successful at attracting PAC donations. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, took in $1.17 million from PACs, or about 48 percent of her total fundraising.
Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, as she has seen her profile rise and become a power in the House, has increasingly become dependent on PAC money to fund her campaign. In 2012, she garnered $1.11 million, and it amounted to 63.4 percent of total funding. For Blackburn that is a radical shift, rising from 36 percent in her first election, 2002.
The obvious observation is, as Sheila Krumholz, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said, "the longer members stay in Congress, the more attractive they become to PACs."
It is sound strategy for these large donors. They can keep the gravy train rolling with a relatively small investment.
Combine corporate and union largesse with effectively gerrymandered districts, which have the unintended bonus of keeping congressional races relatively cheap (the average expenditure for a house seat was $2.3 million in 2012 versus $22.8 million for a Senate seat), and you can see how our system of corporate welfare grows virtually unimpeded.
Given the capitulation of the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which essentially blessed unlimited corporate and advocacy spending in political campaigns, we should expect exactly what we see from Congress, which is more of the same-ole same-ole.
We hope that reform-minded groups, like Fix the Debt and others, who are attempting to educate Americans, can begin to balance the debate.
Frank Daniels III, part owner of The Pilot and cousin of Pilot Publisher David Woronoff, is the community engagement editor of The Nashville Tennessean. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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