Sheldon Adelson, one of the fifteen richest people in the world, has pledged “limitless” donations to do “whatever it takes” to defeat President Obama. But Republicans have few concerns about letting wealthy, influential people dominate campaign discourse. Even though Adelson’s company is being investigated for corruption and money-laundering, Mitt Romney has embraced Adelson’s corrupting influence on democracy, traveling with him, and sending Paul Ryan for a private meeting with him immediately after he picked Ryan as his running mate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has consistently praised the outcome of the Citizen’s United case which has encouraged this unlimited spending, going so far as to submit a brief to the Supreme Court arguing against overturning the decision.
What’s worse is that Republicans want to keep these donations secret, so that we don’t know who is trying to influence elections. The three Republican commissioners on the Federal Election Commission have repeatedly blocked attempts to require disclosure, specifically by tax-exempt so-called “social welfare” organizations set up by Karl Rove and others that enable donors to remain anonymous.
Republicans in the Senate have repeatedly filibustered Democratic attempts to enact disclosure bills. Republican opposition to disclosure laws is not isolated to an extreme few. In July, not one Senate Republican came out in support of the DISCLOSE Act. Not even John McCain, who was once a leading proponent of campaign finance reform.
But while Republicans are strong protectors of letting rich and influential voices be heard, they are going to great lengths to suppress the voice of the less advantaged by making it harder for them to vote. These are the very Americans who mainly get to be heard at the ballot box, because they lack the means and influence to advocate for themselves through lobbying, not to mention TV advertising.
In state after state, Republican-controlled legislatures are introducing rules to make it harder for lower-income, minority citizens to exercise their right to vote. Their intent is obvious: to disenfranchise voters who tend to vote Democratic. As the Republican house majority leader in Pennsylvania said, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Even here in Connecticut, Republican Livvy Floren, representing Greenwich in the State Assembly, introduced legislation last year requiring photo IDs to vote.
Republicans contend that these rules are necessary to protect the integrity of elections by eliminating voter fraud. Yet there is no evidence to support their claim that voter fraud is a real issue. In Pennsylvania, the state admitted that there have been no prosecutions, or even investigations, of voter impersonation that the ID law would prevent. Between 2002 and 2005, the Justice Department prosecuted only 26 substantiated cases of voter fraud, despite a concerted effort by the Bush administration to vigorously prosecute voter fraud. As Fox News recently reported, “election administrators and academics who monitor the issue said in-person fraud is rare.”
But the evidence that these restrictive rules will suppress the vote on a substantial scale is indisputable. The Pennsylvania Department of State estimated that more than 759,000 registered voters might not have the identification required by the new law. In Florida, where a stringent registration law went into effect, the number of newly registered Democrats dropped from over 200,000 per year prior to 2008 to just 11,365 in the past year. In Ohio, Republicans limited early voting in districts likely to vote Democratic, but not in those likely to support Romney.
To protect us from isolated cases of registration and voting irregularity, Republicans are content to potentially disenfranchise millions of voters. The presumed impact of these Republican-sponsored laws is not a left-wing fantasy. Federal and state courts are taking notice, overturning discriminatory rules in Texas, Florida and Wisconsin.
The best way to turn around this assault on democracy is to support Democratic candidates this November. Here in Greenwich, John Blankley, running for Representative in the Connecticut General Assembly, has traveled to Pennsylvania to help voters contend with the new restrictions. Chris Murphy, running for U.S. Senate, sponsored legislation in 2008 to overturn the Department of Veteran Affairs ban on voter registration drives enacted during the Bush administration. Congressman Jim Himes is co-sponsoring legislation to reverse the effects of Citizens United. Across the board, our Democratic candidates demonstrate that they are for transparent campaign funding, and making it easier, not harder, to cast your vote.
Cos Cob, CT