Poor President Obama. Confronted with an economic catastrophe when he took office, he made a decision – well documented here and here, for example – to save the financial industry from its own misdeeds, foregoing the opportunity to obtain from the Wall Street CEOs any kind of quid pro quo for beleaguered taxpayers and homeowners. And what does he get in return?
Wall Street contributions to the President’s re-election campaign are down 68%, reports the New York Times.
There’s also been a drop in financial support from some of those who were all-in to elect him in 2008. Some big-name progressive donors, dismayed by the President’s inability to hold the line on everything from foreclosures to a public health care option (which likely would have survived the Supreme Court’s widely expected invalidation of the health care reform law), are sitting this one out – at least for the moment.
Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come for the President, courtesy of the same Supreme Court. Freed from campaign spending restrictions by the court’s ruling in Citizens United, the highly-skilled right wing corporate apparatus is aiming to raise $500 million in “super PAC” money to beat Obama. Pro-Romney super PACs have already out-raised those supporting the President by a factor of eight.
This comes as no surprise to those familiar with the way big business behaves in public.
If corporations are people, as the Republican majority on the Supreme Court says, then the defining trait of the modern corporate personality is ingratitude. When all the federal bailout programs are totaled up (including indirect assistance like being able to borrow taxpayer money at super-low interest rates), Wall Street and many other firms got somewhere around $14 trillion in financial aid from Washington.
Had that money been put in the hands of the American people, it could have paid off every mortgage, credit card and car loan in the United States.
Like President Obama, we are still waiting for our thank you note from corporate America.
Instead, we get surging credit card interest rates, skyrocketing gas prices, outrageous health insurance premium increases and, adding insult to those injuries, the imposition of undisclosed inflated fees by cell phone, airline and other companies for the dishonest purpose of charging hapless consumers more than the advertised price.
Hence the need for parental supervision of corporate persons, also known as “regulation.”
Corporate money had already eroded the democratic process under the patchwork of campaign finance laws that pre-dated Citizens United. Our report, “Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America” (PDF) gets right to the bottom line. Between 1998 and 2008, Wall Street invested $5 billion in Washington, a combination of money for lobbying and campaign contributions that won deregulation and other policy decisions that enabled the Money Industry to do as it pleased. The ensuing orgy of unbridled speculation came to a halt in 2008 when the big banks threatened to shut down the system unless they got trillions of dollars in loans, tax breaks and other taxpayer bailouts.
But by deregulating corporate money in Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court has empowered a crime wave of corporate influence peddling that will dwarf anything this country has ever seen.
Take, for example, Sacramento – California’s integrity-free zone.
$ A half-decade-long battle to force health insurance companies to open their books and prove they need rate increases was crushed by industry lobbyists, forcing angry consumers to mount a ballot measure of their own.
$ A package of bills backed by the state’s Attorney General to prevent banks from abusing the home foreclosure process – dubbed the “Homeowners Bill of Rights” – has been blocked by the banking industry, which spent over $70 million on lobbyists and lawmakers in California between 2007 and 2011.
$ A bill that will deregulate telephone service, sponsored by the state’s two biggest phone companies, AT&T and Verizon, is sailing through the state legislature, much as electricity deregulation did in 1998 – to disastrous consequences for California taxpayers.
Once upon a time, average citizens might have had a voice in these policy debates. Now that corporate America is locked and loaded, we don’t stand a chance.