Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

Tag: campaign finance

Money bought a stacked deck

Citizen-Times, 5/2014

The presidential election of 1896 and the N.C. legislative election of 2010: 114 years apart and remrkablyy similar.

Democrat William Jennings Bryan thundered against Robber Barons like Rockefeller and Carnegie, vowing to break up their empires.

Republican William McKinley was managed by Mark Hanna, who had one political belief: money wins.   His fundraising was easy. The Robber Barons were terrified of Bryan.   Rockefeller, Carnegie and J.P. Morgan contributed the modern equivalent of $20 million each. They gave McKinley a 23-to-1 money advantage. Then as president, McKinley delivered for them, and their profits soared.

Early in 2010, as The New Yorker magazine reported, former Bush chief-of-staff Ed Gillespie flew from Washington to Raleigh to meet with multimillionaire GOP super-activist Art Pope. He pitched a plan to take over the N.C. General Assembly.   With redistricting coming up in 2011, GOP computers could change N.C.’s Congressional delegation from 7-6 Democrat to 10-3 Republican. And legislative districts could be drawn to give permanent Republican control.

Gillespie’s key component was money. Relatively little was spent in off-year legislative races in N.C., so big dumps of cash in key races could bring a GOP majority.   The U.S. Supreme Court had just decided Citizens United vs. FEC, so big money could flow.

Pope jumped into the flow. He set up and mostly funded two organizations: Real Jobs NC and Civitas Action. They plastered N.C. with half-truth and no-truth mailbox cards against Democratic incumbents.

The New Yorker article details how in Senate District 50, in far-west N.C., two dozen mailers plastered John Snow.   Nearly a million dollars was spent against Snow in a district where both candidates wouldn’t normally spend $250,000.   They beat Snow.

As we all know, Republicans took the General Assembly in 2010 and redistricted as Gillespie wanted.

In 2012, Pope encored 2010. To view his mailers, visit

Democrats knew Pope’s barrage was coming in 2012 but lacked resources and state party leadership (they still do) and could do nothing about it.

Since then, the Supreme Court has further struck down limitations on campaign contributions.

So, here we are. Money is practically unlimited. Redistricting is blatantly stacked. Republicans are expert axmen.

As the philosopher says, “It is what it is.”

Now, what do we do about it?

Remember how Redcoats grumbled when Patriots fired from behind trees? Well, Democrats have been Redcoats long enough. Blunt-force tactics work. People say, “I hear terrible things about Kay Hagan” – untrue terrible things in TV ads.

I don’t say match lies with lies. Tell the awful truth about Raleigh Republicans – but tell it like Civitas Action would.

Money to do it? Gotta get it – race-by-race, county-by-county, precinct-by-precinct, dollar-by-dollar. The future’s at stake.

Art Pope’s tyranny

Citizen-Times, 10/2012

Art Pope has deeply-held beliefs about economics, government and politics ─ “classic libertarian,” he calls it. And Pope’s goal is for all of us to live under his beliefs. And Pope has a plan to make it happen. And Pope has the millions to make his plan happen. And it’s happening.

Art Pope is the guy who funded most of the surprise-attack TV ads and mailers that defeated so many Democrats in 2010 and brought on the Republican General Assembly we’ve just experienced. And he’s a big part of the legislation passed in the General Assembly over the past two years.

Pope’s family money comes from bargain retail stores (Roses is most familiar locally). He served in the General Assembly twice, but his ideas weren’t accepted…so he found better ways to push his beliefs.

It’s a simple plan. He and colleagues set up “institutes” and think tanks to write studies on issues like education reform, health care, transit, tax and regulatory reform, local government. Through a family foundation (that has more than $100 million) and groups he and colleagues founded (with names like Real Jobs N.C. and Civitas Action), Pope gives massive sums to help elect friendly legislators ─ reportedly $2.2 million in 2010.   They targeted 22 races and won 18.   Then once these legislators take power, the think tanks guide them on legislation. It worked in 2010 ─ an especially important year because that was the year of the census, when redistricting is done for General Assembly districts and U.S. congressional districts. (For detail on Pope, his plans and methods, Google “state for sale pope mayer.”)

Pope’s vision is long. He takes great interest in education ─ where generational change takes place. He likes charter schools. And control of the General Assembly means huge influence on the UNC system.

Everything Art Pope does is scrupulously legal.   That’s not the issue. And neither is the issue of big money influencing elections. The Supreme Court gave us that. The issue for us in N.C. is this: Do we want our state government dismantled in a libertarian takeover, including public education and programs to help the poor move to middle class? This is a case study in how minority beliefs can become law of the land for everybody. Is that what we want? I say, No.

From now to Election Day, we should all read the fine print on mailers and TV ads. Anything that looks like outside money coming into our districts ─ like Real Jobs or Civitas ─ probably is outside money. Especially if it makes bizarre attacks on the Democratic candidate.   It won’t have Art Pope’s name on it, but you can hear the jingle of his money.


Dark money buys our gov’t

Citizen-Times, 6/2012

[Details dated but idea timely]

Just when your favorite tv commercial has finished ─ the one with the smiling old people riding bicycles ─ What’s this?   They’re breaking glass all over President Obama’s face! Who did this? I see the ad is brought to me by “” Who is that?

Who? I’ll tell you who. Remember Karl Rove? Right:   George W. Bush’s campaign strategist ─ the one who carried an obscene nickname Bush gave him, a name that implied “Lovely Filth” (Goodle “rove nickname”). Now Rove is spreading his lovely filth in our living rooms.

Karl, Karl, how dost thou deceive us? Let me count the ways:

One, To learn who this is, we have to go back to an outfit called American Crossroads. Soon after the 2010 Supreme Court decision that said individuals and corporations can make unlimited donations to elections, Rove and former Bush White House counsel Ed Gillespie (quote ABC News) “dreamed up two new outlets for Republican megadonors: the super PAC American Crossroads and the 501(c)4 [Crossroads GPS].” is a smoke screen to hide Crossroads GPS.

Two, funding. Be careful: the weeds of deception get thick here. Rove and Gillespie set up two organizations because a super PAC (American Crossroads) has to report who its donors are, whereas a 501(c)4 (Crossroads GPS) does not.  That’s because the IRS sees Crossroads GPS as a non-profit, “social-welfare” organization.   Uh-huh. Naturally, Crossroads GPS gets and spends most of the donations.   ABC News said: “Since the group’s inception, 24 donations of over $1 million have accounted for 87 percent of its total fundraising.” (Google “rove crossroads $76M abc” for the whole story.) Wikipedia says: “American Crossroads raised $28 million in the 2010 election cycle. Ninety-one percent of the funds raised were from billionaires.”

Three, the message. The ad shows President Obama making promises and then the ad writes “BROKEN” and breaks glass after each one. The segment on mortgages isn’t terrible ─ except that the GOP Congress refused to pass legislation that would have helped. But the rest of the ad is Rovian swill., the gold standard of fact-check organizations, says this about the ad’s “broken promise” on taxes: “That’s dishonest nonsense.” (For the full article, Google “bogus tax attack.”)

So if you go to the NewMajority website and read their “agenda,” remember this: All this is paid for by billionaires who are buying the election so they can own the government. And when you see an ad that attacks Obama, and you see “Crossroads” in the fine print, or “New,” remember this: Lovely Filth ─ the man and his commercials.

Envying the rich?

Citizen-Times, 4/2012

Back in January, Mitt Romney was asked on the Today Show if he stands by his previous statement, that anyone questioning inequality in America and misconduct on Wall Street is envious of the rich. He repeated that if they do that, “it’s about envy.” He later said that discussions about inequality in our society are “very envy-oriented.”

Well, Mitt, I believe that inequality is destructive to our society. And I don’t have an envious bone in my body. I have a great wife, great dog, great little house, great little car, great kids, great grandchildren. (no, that should be “wonderful” grandchildren).   I’m a contented man. Oh, I might have a reaction to somebody’s 1955 Thunderbird convertible, but it’s more “How cool” than “I wish I had it.”

When I was in business, I spent time with some of these people I’m supposed to envy, mostly CEOs of client companies. And I can only think of a couple that I’d want to spend an evening with. While they were looking down on me, I was sizing them up as people. Once I was in the room with two CEOs during a break and heard them one-upping each other on Gulfstream jets. I left the room before I puked. I had a few tell me with a chuckle about illegal or unethical tricks they’d pulled, like I was the family dog who wouldn’t understand. An exception certainly was the time I traveled with Stanley Marcus (of Neiman Marcus). A total delight.

Let me define the people I’m talking about.   These aren’t your penny-ante millionaires. They aren’t professionals. Many rich lawyers have happily crossed my path, and there are a few medical doctors I’d like to know better. (Doctors’ arrogance is usually professional, I’ve found, not personal.) The people I’m talking about are the super-rich.   We’ve had a glimpse into their world through Romney and his five houses and his wife’s two Cadillacs. In dramas like PBS’ Downton Abbey, I think most Americans never quite understand the class structure─particularly how the underclasses know and keep their place. I’d have made a terrible peasant.

The super-rich belong to another time, like when John D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Philip Armour, Jay Gould, and James Mellon paid someone else to go fight the Civil War in their places. Mellon’s father wrote to him that “a man may be a patriot without risking his own life or sacrificing his health. There are plenty of lives less valuable.”

The super-rich are the French nobility in 11th century England. We’re the Anglo-Saxon serfs. Serfs back then used the English word “pig”; the nobility used “pork” from French.   That is, one class raised the animal; the other class ate the meat. We don’t figure in their world, even if their activities impact us vitally.

If they would stay on their estates and yachts, none of us would have a quarrel with them. Do you Jay Gatsby thing, dude. But they don’t. They intrude. As you read this, they’re buying the 2012 election. In Wisconsin, only 7 percent of Governor Scott Walker’s funding in his recall battle comes from Wisconsin. Most of the rest comes from billionaires in Texas and New York. As our May 8 primary approaches, you’ll see TV ads from “Restore Our Future”─ads that de-restore Rick Santorum─and you’ll wonder, Who is Restore Our Future? Search “restore our future contributors” on Google and find out. Look down the 10 pages at how much these donors gave and what companies they represent, and ask yourself, “Hmmm, what might these people expect in return from President Romney?” And in the fall, when you see “American Crossroads” on an ad, remember that 98 percent of Crossroads contributors are billionaires.   (President Obama has a super-PAC, but it’s piddling compared to these super-funds.)

Let’s put things in perspective and look closely at one of these super-rich.  Robert Rowling, owner of the Omni hotel chain, is worth $4.7 billion. He gave $2.5 million to American Crossroads in 2010.   That’s five-one-hundreths of one percent of his net worth. Now let’s suppose that you, the reader, have a stash worth $100,000. A contribution you’d make that would be comparable to Rowling’s would be…fifty bucks. Contributing a few mil doesn’t make a blip on his bank statement─but it can sway an election.   That’s what’s going on. They give what is to them chump change in order to make it easier for them to make more after the election.

Who do these people think they are─giving millions to political candidates who will favor them with low tax rates, trying to buy elections so they can play their high-finance games without interference from us Anglo-Saxons serfs (that is, government regulation)? Who do they think they are─taking all they can for themselves without regard to how their risk-taking impacts us all, even pushing an ideological agenda against assistance to the poor? Who do they think they are? Well, they think they’re the nobility, the masters of our future.   And they could just be right.

No, Mr. Romney, I don’t envy these people. They make me angry. And I’m going to do my best this year to see they don’t succeed.   This Angle-Saxon swings a mean vote, and it will be against you and the birds that flock with you.

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