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Mystery money and Mark Twain

Monday, November 1st, 2010



In my final pre-election Sunday column, I talked about the unprecedented flood of mystery money – secret donations from anonymous special interests and fat cats – that infested the campaign discourse in 2010. Unless the average TV viewer was blessed with unusual fact-checking powers, or was poised to Google whatever appeared on screen, there was no way to determine, in real time, even the cursory identities of groups with names like American Crossroads GPS or American Action Network.

And even if one quickly discovered that Crossroads was a Karl Rove creation, and that Network was helmed by Norm Coleman, the recently defeated Republican senator from Minnesota (secret donor-backed GOP front groups have outspend their Democratic counterparts by more than 2-1); and even if one learned online that Crossroads and Network work out of the same Washington, D.C. office building (far away from the supposedly grassroots tea-party movement)…well, that would’ve been the end of the discovery process. Because there’s no way to find out the names of the well-heeled people who provided the tens of millions of dollars for the groups’ ubiquitous TV ads. As I mentioned briefly in the Sunday column, these groups are exploiting provisions of the tax code that allow non-profits to hide the identities of their donors.

That alone is an insult to democracy and to the principle of transparency. Even worse, much of the mystery money in the ’10 election season was put to use for demonstrably deceptive purposes. Or, to put it more plainly, for the crafting of 30-second lies.

Three quick examples, none of which I had room to detail in print:

1. In one Crossroads GPS ad, which runs in Washington state, a senior on a park bench says that the health care reform law “threatens our lives.” The ad doesn’t explain how the reforms might wind up killing the guy, but a Crossroads spokesman said recently, by way of explanation, that the law requires $500 billion in Medicare “cuts.” Which rings a bell, because Crossroads targeted Pennsylvania senatorial candidate Joe Sestak in a separate ad, for voting in favor of health reform and therefore “gutting Medicare.” But, in truth, the law actually mandates $500-billion cuts in the future projected growth of spending over a span of 10 years – as a way to put Medicare on sound financial footing for the long haul. (And by the way, irony of ironies, the GOP-friendly Crossroads was lying in the same fashion that the Democrats lied in the mid-’90s, when they assailed the Newt Gingrich conservatives for “cuts” that were, in fact, cuts in the rate of growth.)

2. American Action Network has aired an ad warning that, under the health reform law, anyone who refused to buy health insurance would then face “jail time.” This particular ad aired roughly 100 times, despite the fact that law refers only to the imposition of fines — and then spells out, in plain English: “In the case of any failure by a taxpayer to timely pay any penalty imposed this section, such taxpayer shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty with respect to such failure.” (Italics are mine.)

3. The Network group has aired in ad (against Pennsylvania Democratic congressman Mark Critz, among others) declaring that the health reform law “spends our tax dollars on health insurance” for illegal immigrants. Oh, really? The law itself specifically bars illegal immigrants. One need only possess basic reading skills to understand this: “ACCESS LIMITED TO LAWFUL RESIDENTS. If an individual is not, or is not reasonably expected to be for the entire period for which enrollment is sought, a citizen or national of the United States, or an alien lawfully present in the United States, the individual shall not be treated as a qualified individual and may not be covered under a qualified health plan in the individual market that is offered through an Exchange.”

So, to review: Secret money from mystery donors floods into the campaign season, in unprecedented fashion…and then is used for the purposes of lying to those who are willfully credulous. And this process has been merely a test run for 2012.

Is this a great country, or what? Mark Twain reputedly said that “a lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” and one can only imagine what he would have said about secretly-funded lies in an era of instantaneity.


38 Comments

  • jmc says:

    The NYT is reporting that Dems outspent the GOP in House races 149 mil to 119 mil, even with all the “secret” money that supposedly fills GOP coffers. Get your tinfoil hat.

  • swedesboromike says:

    During the Colts/Texans game every single ad was a negative ad bashing a Republican. I don’t recall seeing one Toomey or Runyan ad last night while watching that game. From what I heard the politicians spent 1 billion on this election with the majority of the money spent by Democrats. But I’m sure the Dems revealed all their donors, right??

  • Still Independent says:

    anyone willing to make any random predictions just for s***s and giggles? I’ll go Senate stays D, 51-49. House goes R, somewhere around 250-185. Locally, Corbett, Runyan (in a squeaker), and Toomey.

    • swedesboromike says:

      Still- I think just about everyone has their election prediction in line with yours. I have a feeling Reid, thanks to some election shenanigans, pulls out Nevada. Washington State will be a recount with thousands of uncounted ballots turning up in ” heavily democratic districts “

    • NE Philly says:

      still, I say House goes GOP 255-180 and the Senate is a 50-50 tie after recount in Wash State ends Patty Murray’s senate career. Also, no more Senator Reid or Speaker Pelosi (and she might retire rather than fly commercial, oh the joy:) Corbett, Toomey, Adcock & Fitzpatrick win, but Runyan loses in a squeaker!

      • mw56 says:

        NE – sorry to burst you bubble but if Rossi can’t win out right with the first count Murry will win on the recounts. Rossi had the 2004 Governor’s election stolen from him and just like the last time the Dems will keep counting until they find enough votes from illegally register felons for Murry to win.

    • jmc says:

      GOP gains 65-70 House seats, but Dems keep the Senate by a small margin. Either way, the Obama agenda is finished.

  • NE Philly says:

    Looking forward to kicking Nancy Pelosi off her govt. plane and back into commercial like the rest of us:) Incentive enough to vote for the GOP candidate of your choice! And if Harry Reid loses too, which I predict, that will be almost a perfect election night (other than winning the Senate outright:)! Should be fun.

    • Tom - wilmington, de says:

      Hey NEPhilly, my three posts have received -9, -8 and -7 in the thumbs down department. Try and top that…..

      • Steve says:

        Wear it like a badge of honor Tom! I love it, even the posts you make that are fact-based as opposed to just opinion get thumbs-down!

      • Still Independent says:

        tom: I don’t bother to vote thumbs up or down, but if I did, your -7 would now be a -8….. “Apparently the members of the jury were unaware before their deliberations that any deal had been reached with the Obama administration” – what jury deliberations? he pled guilty. and you leave out the fact that he was a minor, and declared a “child soldier” under international agreement – hence the reduced sentence. Oh, and there are seriosu doubts as to whether or not he actually did it.

      • Still Independent says:

        tom: actually, it’s more bizarre. The military jurists were informed that he had pled guilty, but not what the plea agreement was ofr. They then apparently got angry, and sentenced him to 15 years more than the prosecution asked for – knowing full well that their sentencing was symbolic. strange.

      • NE Philly says:

        Tom, I think -9 is the most I have seen. Congrats. He, he, he… Once the GOP controls the House it is going to get ugly in Wash DC and I bet we can top -9 after the election:) Looking forward to it!

      • mw56 says:

        Tom – your now up to -10. Good job. At the same time portly has a +10 for a 70 year old quote from a psychotic racist. Says a lot about Dems on this site. Get ready for the crazies coming out even more starting tomorrow.

      • landscape says:

        Tom Do the posts reflect your honest opinions or are you just pandering for negative votes? It’s beginning to sound a little like a little boys contest, if you know what I mean.

    • pollman says:

      Tom,

      Pennoco gave Toomey some very serious money, not their PAC, the corporation. Their outdoor advertising company also donated space to Toomey. Name me just one corporation that has done similar things for Dem candidates?

  • mw56 says:

    Remember tomorrow your gonna vote to punish our enemies.

  • Tom - wilmington, de says:

    Apologies for going off topic. This from McClatchy News Service….”GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — A military jury on Sunday gave teen terrorist Omar Khadr a 40-year prison sentence for killing an American commando in Afghanistan, but the sentence was merely symbolic — the United States already had agreed to limit Khadr’s prison time to eight years, and Canada last week said it would allow Khadr to serve the bulk of his sentence there….” Apparently the members of the jury were unaware before their deliberations that any deal had been reached with the Obama administration. Nice to see that our government believes killing a US service member is only worth 8 years (eligible for parole in 30 months).

  • yobill626 says:

    I think you’ll find that the same shady individuals (whether they be on the Right or the Left), are the same ones involved in law bending at every stop they make. With that, I’m certainly STUNNED that someone with the sterling character of Karl Rove is involved in political shenanigans.

    • Tom - wilmington, de says:

      yobill, agreed. Nice to see that sterling citizens such as George Soros and Richard Trumka are also involved in our electoral process. What a country, huh?

    • JimR says:

      Rove was not involved in any shenanigans – that’s just a liberal narrative.

      • swedesboromike says:

        You’ll get your narrative tommorow.

        • JimR says:

          Smike, I pretty much know how things will go. I expect the House to change by ~50 seats, most I don’t care about. My local situation (which concerns me most)will remain largely intact. Either guy for Gov will be OK by me. The history favors Corb. The senate seat is a tossup but both are good guys. And you will likely be championing the American sea change to the right, similar to the shift to the left a mere two years ago. (I will cheer with you if Pelosi loses her leadership post) And when there is any inability to perform as promised by Repubs ,we will hear ‘butwhatabout’ (fill in the blank)Enjoy.

        • swedesboromike says:

          Jim- I don’t know what tommorow’s election results will bring. Both side’s spin meisters will be out in full force. I only hope the GOP captures the house so Miss Nancy can get her come uppance. I will be enjoying the night and perhaps I’ll a few glasses of wine

  • Tom - wilmington, de says:

    And the hypocrisy in Polman posting continues…from Michael Isikoff of NBC News…”One group, Patriot Majority PAC — a Democratic political committee that has run a hard-hitting $1.7 million attack ad campaign against Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for Harry Reid’s Senate seat in Nevada — has gotten one of its largest donations, $250,000, from a left-leaning nonprofit that doesn’t release the names of any of its contributors, the records show….Another newly formed political committee, America’s Families First Action Fund, which is running negative commercials against Republicans in House races across the country, recently got $1 million from a closely related nonprofit affiliate, the records show. Both organizations were set up over the summer by Democratic strategists, who emphasized in a memo to donors that contributions to the nonprofit could be kept anonymous….” Hypocrisy reigns supreme.

    • Nalaka says:

      I have to agree with Tom on this that the Polman article would benefit from also mentioning undisclosed support of 2010 Democratic party candidates. I do appreciate his mentioning, though, that “in the same fashion that the Democrats lied in the mid-’90s, when they assailed the Newt Gingrich conservatives for “cuts” “

    • Steve says:

      Yeah, a little more balance in the examples Polman presented would have been nice. Both sides sling mud, lie, and play dirty tricks. It’s unfortunate.

      • landscape says:

        I agree Steve. I’m guessing that he followed the largest money trail or the most blatant examples.

  • Tom - wilmington, de says:

    Oh how Polman bends the truth. First, wasn’t it Democrats in the late 1990’s, when Republicans tried to “slow the growth of Medicare” who referred to it as a cut? The answer is yes. So now “slowing the growth” is not a cut? Even so, Democrats themselves have referred the changes to Medicare as cuts in their push for Obamacare, and they are “cuts” to the Medicare Advantage program. Subsidies are reduced, not increased by less than expected, and in some cases benefits are cut/changed from what the plans now allow. This is not “slowing the growth”. As for illegals being covered, sure the law specifies they are not covered, but the law also forbids the checking of a person’s legal status. Gee, if that is not a loophole big enough to drive Obama’s ego through. As for the jailtime comment, I’d have to go back and re-check the law. BUT, if there are no criminal prosecution/civil penalties, then why bother paying the fine?

  • portly says:

    An apt Halloween quote, from HP Lovecraft in 1939:

    “As for the Republicans, how can one regard seriously a frightened, greedy, nostaglic huddle of tradesmen and lucky idlers who shut their eyes to history and science, steel their emotions against decent human sympathy, cling to sordid and provinical ideals exalting sheer acqisitiveness and condoning artificial hardship for the non-materially-shrewd, dwell smugly and sentimentally in a distorted dream-cosmos of outmoded phrases and principles and attitudes based on the bygone agricultural-handicraft world, and revel in (consciously or unconsciously) mendacious assumptions (such as the notion that real liberty is synonymous with the single detail of unrestricted economic license or that a rational planning of resource-distribution would contravene some vague and mythical “American heritage”…) utterly contrary to fact and without the slightest foundation in human experience? Intellectually, the Republican idea deserves the tolerance and respsect one gives to the dead.” Happy Halloween.

    • Nalaka says:

      That is a fascinating quote. What is particularly striking, though, is that the party remains an active force in American politics and is poised to recover the House. I think the answer is that while the Republican party in general has these ideals, it has shifted tremendously over the past 50+ years and become more liberal. Liberals, during the same time, have also shifted, thus maintaining their relative “liberal” position vis-a-vis the Conservaties. That is, to say, each party gravitates around the middle (centrist) point, but over the past 50+ years, that centrist point has become more liberal (women’s rights, increasing acceptance of homosexuals, etc.). The gradual pull of the Conservative party to the left is an amazing example of the power of democracy.

    • mw56 says:

      Thanks for providing us the quote from a science fiction writer and rabid racist who dies in 1937. Answer a lot of questions I have about you.

    • Rich says:

      Well, those are the Republican traditions,and clearly they have preserved them well. Lovecraft’s remarks are as deadly accurate for today’s Republican party as they were in 1939. You’d have thought voters would have gotten a clue in 70+ years, but they are, after all, H. L. Mencken American voters (“no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public…”).

      • mw56 says:

        Come on guys. If you are going to provide a quote from a psychotic antisocial racist that you think is so right on the money. At least get the year right. He died in 1937 so how did he write in in 1939. I bet you also agree with things Stalin said about Repub’s and capitalists.

    • Tom - wilmington, de says:

      Wasn’t it in 1938 that Republicans gained 78 House seats in the elections? If this quote is from 1936, apparently the electorate did not listen too intently.

  • jmc says:

    You know what’s coming, DP. Nothing you can write can stop it. Just let it happen.

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