Thursday, January 23, 2014

Trickle Down Ethical Collapse: the results of Citizens United … by gimleteye

Miami-Dade is one of the nation's largest counties. Its government is subject, as all governments are, to influence peddling and insider dealing. The county Commission on Ethics and the Miami Dade Office of the State Attorney are organized to protect the public by enforcing laws and those "grey areas" where so much county business is done.

Why, then, are there so many complaints and such little confidence in the ability of government to police its own ethical lapses?

Leadership on ethics comes from the top. Competing to be elected to the top positions in public office requires larger and larger inputs of campaign cash. If you are interested in politics, the familiar routine of candidates for office constantly scraping for campaign cash is very familiar.

But since the US Supreme Court's Citizens United decision four years ago, the money game in politics has fundamentally changed. As much as individuals may feel put upon or feel it is a civic obligation to support with twenty, one hundred, or even a thousand dollar campaign contribution -- whatever is allowed by law -- the real action in American politics has turned to the unlimited campaign contributions allowed to corporations (who are "people" according to the Supreme Court) through dark money channels.

Citizens United turned crony capitalism into exactly the ethical cauldron that one would expect from a political system that long earlier had turned elected officials into money gathering obsessives. It has pushed American politics even further to the right, and turned the business of politics -- ie. redistricting to enable secure anchors for incumbents in elected office -- into a virtual criminal enterprise. It is all about money.

For the Washington Post, writer Chris Ciilizza recently wrote, "How Citizens United changed politics, in 6 charts". "Spending at this point in the 2014 cycle is already almost three times as much as it was at this time in the 2010 election. And it's 25 times more than at this point in the 2006 election." And, "Conservatives have a far better organized snd financed outside operation than do liberals."

What is most shocking is how the spending with no disclosure of donors has soared.

At Eye On Miami, we track local campaign finance reports. What we see, is exactly the pressures that are deforming democracy and creating the conditions for ethical collapse right within the state attorney's office and the county commission on ethics.

Trickle down economics doesn't work, but its corollary in the world of politics most definitely does: a fire hose pouring campaign cash without disclosure straight into the unslakable thirst of state crony capitalism.

Reversing Citizens United will require a massive effort by both Republican and Democratic voters. Just look what has trickled down to Miami-Dade county to understand why.

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