Money Trails

We hear a lot every election cycle (particularly the federal elections) about lousy voter turnout. In 2010 (a non-Presidential election), less than 40% of the voting-age population actually showed up or walked to the mailbox to cast a ballot. The 2008 Presidential election brought a higher turnout, but it was still less than 60%. For a nation hell-bent on “love it or leave it” patriotism, voter apathy among Americans seems rampant. And, on the surface reeks of hypocrisy.

But are Americans really apathetic when it comes to exercising the right our leaders are so willing to send young men and women to die to protect? Or, given the the influence of corporate money over career politicians, do we feel as though our voices simply don’t matter?

In Utah, Senator Orrin Hatch will battle for his party’s nomination since the first time he ran for the office in 1976. That’s right, for 30 years Hatch has been able to skip the primary process thanks to Utah’s often maligned caucus system of selecting candidates for the general election ballots. If a candidate wins 60% of the delegate votes in the caucus, he snags the party nomination. In the recent caucus, Hatch failed to gain the 60% and will now head to a primary. Running scared after seeing another long tenured incumbent, Bob Bennett, lose his seat in the 2010 election (thanks to the Tea Party fervor that swept Utah), Hatch knows he must win the primary to keep his seat. The general election will be less an issue since Utah doesn’t elect Democrats to national office. Well, ok…there’s that Mattheson dude in the House, but he doesn’t really count.

So, what’s a career politician who won his seat 36 years ago by pointing out his opponent (a three-term incumbent…Hatch has now served six terms) had been in Washington too long and had lost touch with the real world to do? Spend like a Rockefeller, of course. And Hatch’s war chest is formidable. With no real opposition in 30 years, he has amassed nearly $6 Million in his campaign accounts. And, with the advent of super-PACs and political non-profits the sky is truly the limit. Freedom Path, a political non-profit supporting Hatch in his primary race, has already spent more than $550,000 on advertising in the state promoting Hatch. That number actually seems small when you consider his opponent, Dan Liljenquist, has been the benefactor of almost $800,000 in spending by FreedomWorks (WTF is with the Freedom thing???), a super-PAC.

Over a million dollars have been spent on on this battle, and most of it was spent by groups outside the state. Freedom Path is primarily run by a couple of guys in Nevada, and as a non-profit can accept donations in any amount from anyone and never has to disclose where the money originated. FreedomWorks can also accept donations in any amount; however, as a super-PAC it’s required to disclose. Of course, they’ve found some tricky ways around that by funneling money between groups and parent companies. After all, they shouldn’t be bothered by a little thing like disclosure or transparency.

One thing is crystal clear in this confusing mess of corporate “peoples” and out-of-staters meddling where they shouldn’t. This is a lot of goddamn money for one race. And it’s not even for a general election. So, maybe it’s not apathy that keeps people away from the polls. Maybe it’s complete and utter despair. A feeling of insignificance. A true-blue “who gives a shit” attitude. I know it’s how I feel. A couple years ago I sent an email to Senator Hatch imploring him to support legislation to curb oil speculation and market manipulation. Four months later I got a message back. He thanked me for my email and assured me that healthcare reform is a cause he cares deeply about, and that he would do everything he could to prevent the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act from passing.

Gee, thanks a lot, Orrin. Then again, what else can I expect as a lowly citizen without a receipt for a $50,000 donation to the war chest?

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Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net