By Leslie James
It’s great that we live in the United States where we boast about free and open elections, but this year’s campaign exposed several concerns. There was the never-ending barrage of destructive campaign ads that aired lies about candidates at all levels, along with their “dirty laundry”—while the world watched. There was also the unheard-of billions of dollars spent (by politicians collectively) while so many Americans are still struggling. And finally there was the harsh reality of how the now infamous “super PACs” are likely to dictate winners and losers in all future elections—unless major changes are made.
How ironic that just seconds before declaring one’s candidacy, a person was seen as a responsible, hard-working father/mother, family man/woman, devoted husband or wife and caring human being … but as soon as the announcement was made, the hateful attacks against that same person began. Are we proud of those candidates who stooped so low as to slander, accuse, destroy and defame every human value of their political opponents? And every candidate was guilty, because they all willingly participated in the slaughter. The war of words and negative ads crossed every line of civility, ethics, honor, integrity and professionalism. The nonstop attacks left most viewers numb and demonstrated how every candidate was prepared to do, and say, anything to get elected … including sacrificing their own principles and values. Or did they?
And yet, we as Americans still chose to award many of these same people with public office. Are you kidding me? If they were so willing to ditch their personal values and assassinate (and betray) the character of their “fellow opponents,” what makes you think they will act any differently after being elected? I’m still haunted knowing that many candidates spent tens of millions (some spent $30 million plus) for a single seat in Washington that pays a base salary of $174,000. Boy, those winners sure have a lot of favors and IOUs to pay back, don’t they? Oh well. As the saying goes: “We get what we pay for.”
The super PACs, a new phenomenon in the political arena, are totally controlled by the world’s “super elite”—the wealthiest of millionaires, billionaires, corporations and foreign entities. These contributors are legally able to hide behind the super PACs (like cowards) and conceal their identities from the world. Shouldn’t everyone who’s running for office be proud to share with the world the identity of those who support them? And should it not be the law, as well?
Super PACs are moving the American political system backward, from transparency to more secrecy. Secrecy in politics conjures up thoughts of black-ops, corruption and sinister actions. These super PACs are in the (BIG) business of pushing their own personal agendas or whatever is good for them. They are not in business to serve the interests of most Americans.
Whichever way each party’s spin doctors roll the dice, they’re all coming up 7’s. If left unchecked, it seems destined that future elections or ballot initiatives will be won by those whose super PACs spend the most money. Politics has been reduced to buying and selling. Ethics, honor, integrity or just simple principles and values—the very words that guided our founding fathers—have taken a backseat to the almighty greenback.
These PACs can legally funnel millions or billions of dollars into any campaign they want, in any state they chose, in support of any candidate or whichever ballot initiative is up for a vote. They have already come knocking on Arizona’s front door, and they will continue to funnel vast sums of money into Arizona politics, which is guaranteed to alter our landscape and certain to impact the lives of all Arizonans. Now that’s a slippery slope. Here’s an example of how outside money interests and PACs influenced our local elections.
In the race for the office of Maricopa County sheriff, incumbent Joe Arpaio’s campaign raised a war chest of more than $8 million, while challenger Paul Penzone raised roughly $500,000. The Arizona Republic reported that 80 percent of the Arpaio’s funds (about $6.5 million) came from donations outside of Arizona. In contrast, Penzone’s $500,000 (which amounts to less than 7 percent of what Arpaio raised) came almost entirely from within the state. Arpaio won his re-election bid by roughly 10 percent of the vote, so the math tells me four things. Arpaio required almost 20 times more funding to defeat challenger Penzone. Arpaio’s 10 percent win cost about $700,000 for every percentage point he won by—a very costly race. Seems that Arpaio might well have lost, had it not been for the $6.5 million he received from his outside investors. And if 80 percent of his support in fact did originate from outside of Arizona (not just outside of Maricopa County), it shows that his popularity within the region he serves was not that strong. So, one could argue that the outsiders who donated to his campaign, rather than locals, were a major factor in his re-election.
By all accounts, the election cost the Romney and Obama camps about $2.5 billion, with another $2 billion to $3 billion spent collectively by other candidates at all levels, or somewhere between $5 billion and $6 billion in total. It simply cost too much, period! While we may be eager to shout to the world that America has free and open elections, the super PACs have changed that forever. Going forward, a more accurate message we send out to other countries might be “our leadership is BOUGHT and SOLD in secrecy to the highest bidder.”