If one is interested in forecasting what a potential Romney presidency might look like, it might be best to start with what we already know. Four major precedents have been set in the past few years that could mean key transformations in elections, campaigns, and voter outcomes going forward. Major campaign finance reform laws and US Supreme Court decisions set in motion drastic changes in the role of business in politics. Big business figured out how to exploit these revised laws. And, conservative politicians have reinstated the anti-union rhetoric last seen under LBJ. All these events can’t be attributed to Romney. But, his support for them may help elucidate his presidential goals.
Now where to begin…
Some say campaign finance reform started with the “McCain-Feingold Act” or the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. But many more believe that the catalyst of change seen in recent elections is attributable to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision of 2010. In this highly polarizing Supreme Court decision, the conservatives on the Court deemed, by a 5-4 vote, that corporations and unions should not be limited in their ability to express freedom of speech. Citing the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, this decision gave these entities freedom to give unlimited amounts of money to political action committees (PACs). The term “super PAC” was born because, unlike the PACs of old, these new PACs were only limited in their ability to work in concert with candidates. Besides that, super PACs have unlimited power in political “free speech.”
Give Us Super PACs, Give Us Campaign Donations
Romney has argued that “corporations are people.” He even said so to a group of campaign supporters in Iowa last year. So, has the Citizens United decision actually had an impact? Definitely. Since July 2010, super PACs have poured millions of dollars into presidential and congressional campaigns. And, though the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore our Future, has a short list of major contributors, dissenters often criticize President Obama for his support from the Priorities USA Action super PAC. Undoubtedly, President Obama has benefited from the efforts of Priorities USA Action. He has deep ties to Hollywood and union leaders. However, outside money raised by Restore our Future was almost double that of Priorities USA Action as of September. Therefore, one could assume that the goo gobs of money these campaign donors are investing in the Romney ticket have some future return. And, similarly, have an equal and opposite reward for the magnitude of spend to date.
Enter Big Business
Many conservatives defend big business. And as consumers, we obviously depend on many million dollar men without even knowing it. For example, the Koch Brothers, who’ve been supporting the GOP to the tune of millions of dollars, are responsible for household names like Brawny, Dixie, and Zee. Heck, they own major cattle, coal, and oil producers too. Want to do your part to dethrone them? Well, there’s an app for that. But, there have been other responses too. We’ve had the “Occupy Movement.” We’ve seen pickets and marches. But, nothing has done much to deter the business conglomerates that are working to have their “voice” be heard. Romney seems well aware of this point and has worked diligently to garner support from business leaders. Even, sometimes, asking managers and business owners to threaten workers into voting for his ticket.
On its face, Romney’s continued support of and from big business seems harmless and even expected. He is the former CEO of Bain Capital, a multi-billion dollar alternative asset management firm. But, his relationship with big business coupled with the legislative power recently awarded to the million dollar donors helps shed light on what these dollars are buying.
Queue Union Busting
We all have freedoms right? If we want to support a business or if we don’t, if we want to live in a particular city or not, or even if we want to join a union, it’s our choice. Right? Well, maybe not anymore. Recent efforts in states like Ohio and Wisconsin to “bust” unions have caused a ruckus nationwide. And now, Californians are voting on Proposition 32 which, if passed, could severely limit the use of union moneys in political activities. California is a solid Democrat state and still has a union busting prop on the ballot.
What is devastating about this feature of our voting and elections system today is many low information voters receive their political resources via their union. If union busting laws are successful, many Americans will lose access to their primary channel of political access. Romney has expressed support of union busting in the case of Wisconsin. And, such a plutocratic regime would best fit with the business interests he’s been aligned with. So, it is safe to bet that he would support union busting if elected.
What does it all mean?
With the ongoing struggle between big donors and little voters, it seems that money speaks quite loudly. The Supreme Court underscored that with Citizens United. But, what do the people think? Liberals claim to be the voice of the people. The Obama campaign cites the over 3.1 million individual contributors, two thirds of whom have given less than $25. The Obama camp raised almost 40% of its donations from those who gave $200 or less while Romney’s share was just 15% in this donor group. So, more people with less to give have aligned with President Obama.
In contrast, Romney’s bread-and-butter donors have not been of the common sort. His donors are predominantly well-to-do. And, in some cases, extremely well-to-do. If these donors really do want a “return on their investment,” said return could mean fewer opportunities to unionize thereby removing a large segment of blue collar workers from the electoral landscape. It could mean less regulation for business and banking industries which were a fundamental cause of the recession. It could mean that elections are no longer fought but bought.
But, most importantly, it could mean that a Romney presidency would be an era of big business donors collecting on their investments. With ties to oil, banking, consumer goods, entertainment, transportation services, and capital industries, the permutations of influence are innumerable. And, victories for the common man like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, healthcare reform, Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, and college loan reform, could become relics of the past. A Romney presidency could mean a shift in priorities toward business interests like less regulation on cattle feed, farm subsidies, banking products, oil drilling, and environmental preservation. It could also signal a shift away from a host of other common man issues that don’t necessarily align with big donors like the Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers. This could turn out to be cronyism at its finest. This is speculation, merely forecasting. But, using what we know today…we can certainly guesstimate what these things will yield. Are these big business investors looking for future payout? Probably. Will we get to see what that payout looks like? Well, D-day is just two weeks away. So, we’ll find out soon enough…