Sensitive Donors

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A lot of millionaires and billionaires have started giving six and seven-figure checks to super PACs like “Restore Our Future,” which was created to help Mitt Romney, or Karl Rove’s “American Crossroads,” started to elect Republicans at every level.

These super PAC donations, rightly, have to be disclosed, which means a lot of people are asking, “well, what could an oil tycoon expect in return for donating one million dollars to get a candidate elected?” They’re raising questions about whether people facing three federal investigations—like major GOP donor Sheldon Adelson—should be allowed to buy their preferred politicians.

Rich people are sensitive to this, it seems, and they are really mad about the attention they’re getting.

Frank VanderSloot, who once bought a full-page newspaper ad in Idaho to “out” as gay a reporter that wrote a bad story about him, has been one of the biggest boo-hooer’s in the crowd. He told Politico, “You go back to the Dark Ages when they put these people in the stocks or whatever they did, or publicly humiliated them as a deterrent to everybody else – watch this – watch what we do to the guy who did this.”

The thing is—it wasn’t the King’s court or wealthy landowners that got put in the “stocks.” VanderSloot, “in the dark ages,” would’ve been one of the rich people laughing at those people in the stocks—the ones that stole bread from the shopkeeper to feed their family. Disclosure of million-dollar donations is not about public humiliation. Disclosure of these donations is not like what NAACP contributors faced during the 1960s.

It is about whether everyday Americans deserve to know who’s trying to buy our democracy, and what they’ll want if their preferred candidate gets elected. One donor, Julian Robertson, said recently that his $1.25 million donation to Restore Our Future was, “one of the most important investments” he’d ever made.

What kind of investment, you say? Here are just a few examples:

  • The Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year. Maybe some donors would want them extended.
  • Oil companies continue to get billions in taxpayer subsidies every year even though some in Congress keep trying to end them.
  • Jim Davis, the billionaire CEO of New Balance Shoes, could really use a defense contract from the Pentagon to sell his shoes in bulk.
  • VanderSloot owns a “multilevel marketing firm” in Idaho that sells nutritional supplements. It’d probably eat into his profits if there were stronger consumer protections on his products, products the FDA has repeatedly cited for making “false and misleading claims.”

There are more examples, but you get the point. Voters and opposition candidates questioning the motivation of a big donor isn’t intimidation, it is politics.

The Courts have given wealthy individuals the ability to tremendously influence our political process—influence that most people can’t even dream of having--and in a free country, we deserve to know about it.

Conservative hero Justice Antonin Scalia once said about a case involving the disclosure of petition signatures, “running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage.” Courage is something you’d think these wealthy donors, many of whom are self-made, would possess in spades.