The Citizens United ruling by the US Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money playing a huge role in US elections through groups known as SuperPACs that could collect unlimited amounts and spend it is support of candidates. There were supposed to be some limits still remaining, such as that the SuperPACs were not supposed to coordinate with the campaigns. But Stephen Colbert on his old show brilliantly demonstrated how easy it was to get around that, winning an EMMY award for his expose.
Another way that campaigns violate the intent of the law is for them to post footage of the candidate online that anyone can use to make their own ads, thus giving their SuperPACs free access to videos of the candidate that they can use while technically being independent. This way of circumventing the intent of the laws is analogous to a lobbyist leaving an envelope of money on a table where a congressperson who is passing by can pick it up, and both claiming that this is not a bribe since technically anybody could have picked up the money. This is yet another example of the mockery that our elections have become.
Most of the time, the footage made available is heavily edited and polished. For some reason the Ted Cruz campaign seems to have put hours and hours of raw footage online and, as this CNN report shows, the results are often painful to watch. We see multiple takes of the same act and the people being coached on what to say and how to hug. Cruz’s mother seems the least enthusiastic about faking it for the camera. This material will provide lots of material not just for the SuperPACs supporting Cruz but also for his opponents and comedians.
The Federal Elections Commission, the watchdog agency that is meant to vigorously police elections, has become toothless, according to a frank admission by its own head.
The leader of the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with regulating the way political money is raised and spent, says she has largely given up hope of reining in abuses in the 2016 presidential campaign, which could generate a record $10 billion in spending.
“The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim,” Ann M. Ravel, the chairwoman, said in an interview. “I never want to give up, but I’m not under any illusions. People think the F.E.C. is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.”
Her unusually frank assessment reflects a worsening stalemate among the agency’s six commissioners. They are perpetually locked in 3-to-3 ties along party lines on key votes because of a fundamental disagreement over the mandate of the commission, which was created 40 years ago in response to the political corruption of Watergate.
Some commissioners are barely on speaking terms, cross-aisle negotiations are infrequent, and with no consensus on which rules to enforce, the caseload against violators has plummeted.
Money had already become the dominant factor in elections, When this paralysis of the election watchdog agency is combined with other abuses such as gerrymandering, striking people off voter roles, and making the voter registration process cumbersome especially for poor and minority voters, US elections are becoming less and less fair and democratic and heading dangerously close to banana republic territory.