Politics & Law

Mitt, son of “Citizens United”

Robert Reich

First, a confession. If Mitt Romney becomes president I’m partly to blame.

Ten years ago I ran for the Democratic nomination for governor of Massachusetts — which would have given me the opportunity to whip Mitt Romney’s ass in the general election,

I blew it. In the final week of the primary I was neck and neck with the state treasurer, but then my money ran out, which meant my TV ads stopped. Declining the suggestion of my campaign manager to take out a second mortgage on my home, I frantically phoned anyone I could find who hadn’t yet contributed $500, the maximum state law allowed. I didn’t raise beans. In the end, the treasurer won the primary, Romney won the general election and became governor, and I went back to being a professor.

But my fantasy of beating Romney may be nothing more than a fantasy because Romney had — and still has — something I never did (and I’m not referring to his gleaming white teeth, carefully-coiffed hairline, or height). He has money, and he has connections to much more money.

Mitt Romney was then and still is the candidate of big money.

In the last weeks before the just-completed Iowa caucuses, Romney spent over $3 million relentlessly torpedoing Newt Gingrich with negative ads — cutting Gingrich’s support by half and hurtling him from first place to fourth. But Romney kept his fingerprints off the torpedo. Technically the money didn’t even come from his campaign.

It came from a Super PAC called “Restore Our Future,” which can sop up unlimited amounts from a few hugely wealthy donors without even disclosing their names. That’s because “Restore Our Future” is officially independent of the Romney campaign — although its chief fundraiser comes out of Romney’s finance team, its key political strategist was political director of Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, its treasurer is Romney’s former chief counsel, and its media whiz had been part of Romney’s media team.

“Restore Our Future” is to Mitt Romney’s campaign as the dark side of the moon is to the moon. And it reveals the grotesque result of the Supreme Court’s decision a year ago in Citizen United vs the Federal Election Commission, which reversed more than a century of efforts to curb the influence of big money on politics.

If income and wealth in America were as widely shared as in the first three decades after World War II, we’d have less reason to worry. But now, with an almost unprecedented concentration of money at the very top, Citizens United invites the worst corruption our democracy has witnessed since the Gilded Age.

And Romney and Citizens United were made for each other. Other candidates have quietly set up Super PACs of their own, and President Obama has his Super PAC already busily tapping into whatever reservoirs of big money it can find. But Mitt’s unique ties to the biggest money pits enable him to take unique advantage of the Court’s scurrilous invitation.

The New York Times reports that New York hedge-fund managers and Boston financiers contributed almost $30 million to “Restore Our Future” before the Iowa caucuses. And “Restore Our Future“‘s faux independence has allowed Romney to publicly distance himself from them, their money, and the dirty work that their money has bought.

More than anyone else running for president, Mitt Romney personifies the top 1 percent in America — actually, the top one-tenth of one percent. It’s not just his four homes and estimated $200 million fortune, not just his wheeling and dealing in leveraged-buyouts and private equity, not even the jobless refugees of his financial maneuvers that makes him the Gordon Gekko of presidential aspirants.

It’s his connections to the epicenters of big money in America — especially to top executives and financiers in the habit of investing  for handsome returns. And there are almost no better returns than those found in tax benefits, government subsidies, loan guarantees, bailouts, regulatory exemptions, federal contracts, and trade deals generating hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars a year.

Romney, in other words, is the candidate Citizens United created, the creature given life by Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito all playing Dr. Frankenstein.

Given what the Court has wrought, my conscience is less burdened. Had I whipped Romney’s ass ten years ago I might only have delayed his awakening. But I fear for the country.

Cross-posted from Robert Reich’s blog.

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Comments to "Mitt, son of “Citizens United”":
    • Steve Sweat

      As an attorney that has spent the last 17 years representing the “little guy” (i.e. average consumer in America) against powerful corporate players like insurance companies, I think Citizens United is one of the worst decisions to ever come out of the U.S. Supreme Court.

      We are now a country of the people (with money), by the people (with money) and for the people (with money). This was not Lincoln’s dream!!

      [Report abuse]

    • AJ

      Several points that I think need clarifying:

      1. Gingrich fell because he had skeletons in his closet, not because of the attack ads Romney ran.

      2. Money spent hasn’t really shown to be a factor in deciding candidates – media coverage seems to play a much bigger factor. Mike Huckabee won Iowa last time around despite being outspent by a vast amount. If you truly are worried about powerful influences deciding elections you would be criticizing the media more – which has a very small amount of conservative influence.

      3. Many candidates have large amounts of money, Barack Obama has amassed a great deal of wealth in his time in politics…not to mention he has shady dealings of how he got his house in Illinois. You yourself certainly must have much more money than most Americans if you were able to run for governor and that money has as much influence on elections as you claim it does.

      4. Does it matter if Bill Gates donates money or if the money is in the name of Microsoft? Also why not go after George Soros if you really are concerned about money influencing elections, since he spends so much on political causes.

      [Report abuse]

    • Debbie Caraway

      I find your blog extremely biased. Yes, Mitt Romney is a wealthy man, but he earned it. He did not ask for anyone to share their wealth with him or to create a super PAC to illegally finance and advertise for his campaign. He understands that people who support the spreading of wealth are going to be the doom of this country.

      This the land of opportunity — a land in which if you work hard, you can succeed. This is not a socialist country and certainly not founded on socialist ideas. The Founding Fathers wanted this to be a country that is the land of the free — not a country of tyranny in which whatever you work for will be given to others so everybody has the same.

      Yes, I am a supporter of Mitt Romney. I believe he can Restore Our Future instead of going to countries and apologizing for the U.S.A. and saying that we were arrogant. We live in the greatest country in the world because it is a land of opportunity and because it is a land of opportunity, if you work hard and persevere, you can be successful.

      I’m grateful that we have a candidate who recognizes that there is a guideline to follow when it comes to governing and that is the Constitution of the United States. Because of that great document, you have the right to speak your opinion and I have the right to do the same.

      [Report abuse]

    • Susan

      He EARNED it??? Excuse me, oh naive one, Mitt did not exactly show up at Harvard with a duffel bag and a merit scholarship. His dad was a prominent (and VERY wealthy) corporate leader and politician. Mitt made the bulk of his $200M fortune by buying up companies, LAYING OFF all the employees, then selling the remainder. (How much sleep do you think he lost, concerned about all the people who were thrown into the streets?)

      If you want to look for the Horatio Alger parallel, it’s Obama: single-parent family, mixed-race kid, no family money, worked his ass off. If anyone EARNED it, it’s Barry Obama.

      Everyone is entitled to his own opinion; but everyone is NOT entitled to his own facts.

      [Report abuse]

    • Anthony St. John

      Robert, I find it most nteresting that super PAC contributors are afraid to identify themselves, in spite of the fact that the Founders of the United States risked their lives to produce the Declaration of Independence that they signed.

      Our Founders were Heroes and Patriots, which makes one wonder how we should characterize republican super PAC contributors and candidates that accept their support.

      The conclusion of the signed Declaration of Independence was
      “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the
      protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our
      Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Yes, they risked their lives to create American Democracy.

      However, today’s republican candidates and their super PAC contributors refuse to meet the same standards of Honor and Integrity that our Founders who risked their lives for for American Democracy.

      This brings up a most important question:

      Has American Democracy reached the decline, if not the fall phase when super PAC contributors refuse to identify themselves even though our Founders risked their lives to create the United States of America?

      [Report abuse]

    • hoapres

      And Obama is not a candidate for the rich ??

      Most of Obama’s policy being the “stimulus”, “bailing the banks”, etc. helped the rich and nobody else.

      Like I said before, I don’t think it makes a difference between Obama or Romney.

      [Report abuse]

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