Eight years ago, when the Supreme Court decided they would bolster plutocracy and allow for outside interests to run amuck, depredating the purity of elections, former President Barack Obama famously grieved his disappointment at his State of the Union Address. At the time, purveyors of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision deemed that the Supreme Court ruling championed free speech, and that no such harm would come from defending the constitution.
But Obama’s concerns have largely come true. Over the last eight years, the ever-expanding tentacles of big money have muzzled and dominated politics. From the deceitful and far-right hate duo of the Koch brothers, to big oil, to the terrorist organization of gun manufacturers: Money has been weaponized by the right. While Democrats certainly aren’t immune to this contagion, it has overwhelmingly been the right that has sought to harness the leviathan of billions and use it against its opponents by any means necessary.
Without hyperbole to make this more poignant for us here in Wisconsin, no other state is being as targeted by the right than as hard and viciously as Wisconsin. As the months inch forward, and we nudge closer and closer to what’s shaping up to be a historic and contentious midterm election season, the right has been doing everything possible to oust Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin from office.
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It’s not a new attack method here though. In 2016, conservative groups such as the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform launched numerous demeaning ads against former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and the Koch Brothers and the NRA have funneled millions into campaigns for both Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker.
And now, the right is doing everything they can to stop Baldwin from re-election. As it stands, Baldwin is one of 10 senators up for re-election this year in the state President Donald Trump won in 2016. And the Koch Brothers are spending millions against her for being “too liberal,” in an efforts to mobilize the conservatism that flipped Wisconsin from its 20-plus year blue status. But what makes the re-election even tougher is that 2018 will also hold our gubernatorial election. Walker has a robust and dangerous in-state system that will certainly lead to a conservative turnout.
Republican money is doing everything it can to topple Baldwin, insomuch that outside interest groups have spent more money against Baldwin than all 21 other Democratic incumbent senators up for re-election this year, combined, by a factor of five. Numbers like this are indicative of exactly what Obama feared nearly a decade ago.
In what way is this a democratic, representative way to elect people? Defenders on both sides of the aisle are quick to argue that more money means more chances to win. But that is folly. Even here in Wisconsin where right-wing money pollutes absolutely, Randy Bryce, Paul Ryan’s challenger, is running a campaign based on small donations from everyday people. Grassroots momentum like this is attainable and it is as powerful as is it is simple to understand.
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The most qualified and best candidates aren’t the richest ones. They’re not the ones backed by multibillionaires who own Time, nor the ones who have the same amount of wealth as the GDP of Bolivia. No, the best candidates should be and are, the ones who have the most passionate message, want to fight for their constituents, have proven their experience and are dedicated to striving for positive change.
It’s certainly a fine line and seemingly a paradox. Yes, you need money, mass communication and publicity to run a campaign, but what you don’t need is for money to lead to corruption. We as a nation need to throw and slice off the tentacles of plutocratic greed, not just so Baldwin may be re-elected, but because it’s imperative for the health of elections and democracy as a whole.
Continuing to do otherwise merely emboldens and maintains the hegemonic power of the wealthy and corrupt — something that serves no one’s best interests.
Adam Ramer ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in history and political science.