Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beige Man Group

When I was young political decisions were described as happening half in the public arena, and half in smoke filled rooms. Cynics would say that all decisions happened in the rooms filled with smoke. The smoke in the rooms of power was from cigars puffed upon by fat white men in suits. It appeared as if this was a natural order of things; it contrasted sharply with the images of powdered wigs and robes that percolated up from the power-rooms of history (and England).

Monica Lewinsky connected politics to cigars in a more intimate way. The smoke was inhaled. The term “Trading in hog bellies” became more useful as a euphemism. Only the white men and suits remained.

Then came president Obama, and the “Beige Man Group” was re-cast. Only the suits remained.

Sometimes the suits are optional, and if we are to judge from the popular photos of half-naked congressmen the white men of power are not all fat anymore.

Does this mean that the rooms are empty? How different is American politics simply because it looks different?

The initial primary funding season has come to a close. Some candidates, like John Huntsman, have begun to fade simply as a result of their inability to raise enough cash. It is almost possible to accurately pick who the 2012 Republican nominee will be based on the amount of money raised at this point in their campaign. Rick Perry has avoided inspection by “not running” until this funding window has closed so his chances are difficult to assess. Of those Opensecrets.org are tracking Mitt Romney has raised around five times what the next highest earning Republican candidate has raised.

Campaign contributions are seen as free speech, and expensive free speech at that, by the Supreme Court. Romney’s over 18 million dollars (as of 30 June 2011) came mostly from large donors. This means that there are a small number of people who have a lot to say, and want Mitt Romney to say it for them. In fact 94% of Mitt’s money came from large donors. Barak Obama who will probably be the Democratic nominee has raised over twice what Mitt has raised, but only 23% of it has come from large donors. Lots of people want the president’s ear.

However, the reporting leaves out some important information. Much of this election’s campaigns will be financed by political action committees, or PACs. The money from the PACs are not specifically reported as being attached to any one candidate. Romney’s PAC (“Restore Our Future PAC”) received a $1 million dollar donation from W Spann LLC in April, but his campaign only identified a little under 90 thousand dollars as being PAC money before 30 June 2011. Three months later W Spann LLC dissolved; apparently their sole business was donating to Mitt Romney’s campaign. It appears like W Spann was just another name for one Edward Conard whohas been a major source of financial support for all of Mitt’s campaigns. Both he and his wife have each donated to Mitt’s campaigns at every chance they have had. But that was not enough free speech for them.

By the 30 June reporting deadline the Romney “Restore Our Future PAC” had raised over 12 million dollars. That is a number comparable to (60% of) the amount of money that the Romney campaign reported, and much more than any of the other Republican nominee candidates reported. Almost 1 dollar in ten in that PAC came from one man. There are over 300 million people in the USA. That’s an awful big slice of the free speech pie for one man.

You know…I would like a little free speech, but it’s so darned expensive these days.

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