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Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012 12:15 am

Mediocre candidates and corporate cash

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And away we go!

Not just into a new year, but – zap! – suddenly we find ourselves catapulted en masse into the turbulent Twilight Zone of the 2012 presidential election. On day three of the year, while most of us were still woozy from our New Year’s Eve celebration, Iowa voted. Well ... sort of.

The media’s breathless coverage of Tuesday night’s 1,774 local Republican caucuses in the Hawkeye State offered a mind-boggling blizzard of statistics, but made practically no mention of two telling stats.

First: 5.5 percent. That’s the percentage of Iowa’s eligible voters who ventured out in the cold to pick from the GOP’s rather unappetizing menu of Mitt, Rick, Ron, Newt, The Other Rick and Michele. So the top vote-getters (Romney and Santorum) each got only 25 percent of the paltry turnout of 122,000 Iowans who bothered to show up –  fewer people than who live in one block of some big cities.

Second: zero. That’s the number of delegates allocated to the contenders in Tuesday’s Hawkeye hullabaloo. You see, the 25 actual voting delegates Iowa will send to the Republican presidential nominating convention this summer will be chosen in a separate, arcane series of county, district and state meetings. The caucuses are just for show – a glorified straw poll.

But what a show it was! At one time or another in the past year, all six of the active wannabes rose to the top of the heap, only to slip on their own ugly records, lies or slapstick misstatements and then slide back into the muck of negativity and ultra-right-wing goofiness that is the lasting hallmark of this dispiriting Republican group.

In a December radio commentary, I noted that people have coined useful phrases to describe groups of animals – a gaggle of geese, for example, or a pride of lions. But what, I asked listeners, should we call this herd of political critters? The emails poured in, suggesting such juicy phrases as a pandermonium of right-wingers, an egoswarm, a klutz cluster, a cawcaphoney (with apologies to crows), a giggle of candidates, a flub of Republicans, a pod of nimrods ... and, simply, an embarrassment.

 OK, many of you are down on President Obama, and others are just pure-blooded Republicans – but, seriously, having seen these six in action, don’t you have to ask yourself, in the words of the old Peggy Lee song, “Is that all there is?”

In Iowa’s presidential scramble, the biggest players were not the candidates, but an insidious and ever-growing force that voters couldn’t even see: corporate cash.

Welcome to the Brave New Political World created out of thin air by the Supreme Court two years ago. In its now infamous edict in the Citizens United case, the court’s five-man majority of laissez-faire ideologues decreed that unlimited sums of money from corporations and the rich can be funneled into independent electioneering committees, dubbed “superPACs.” These outfits are then free to bombard the airwaves with nonstop ads to elect candidates they support. In the Iowa caucuses, an unprecedented $12.5 million went into the campaigns – two-thirds of that was spent not by candidates, but by the superPACs.

The court theorized that superPACs would operate entirely independently from their favored candidates. What a fantasy! In fact, the candidates themselves have merely dispatched their top staffers and millionaire funders to create and run superPACs on their behalf, so “separation” is a legalistic fraud.

Second, although the SuperPACs operate under benign, nondescript names like Restore Our Future (Romney’s) and Make Us Great Again (Perry’s), they have become  each candidate’s nuclear bombs of negative campaigning, doing the sleazy work of sliming opponents with attacks. In addition, the Supremes also theorized that superPACs would report the names of their donors, but –  surprise – most are simply not doing so.

What the court has achieved by hurling the Citizens United monkeywrench into America’s democratic machinery is truly stunning. It has made corporate money supreme in our elections, drastically increased the number and ferocity of negative campaign ads, and dangerously hidden the identity of funders and candidates who are quietly conspiring to buy public office. To help repeal Citizens United, go to United4ThePeople.org..

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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