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Campaign Finance Reform, Dark Money, and the Gyrocopter Pilot

Campaign Finance Reform, Dark Money, and the Gyrocopter Pilot
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By Keith D. Foote

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided campaign contributions were a form of “political speech” and struck down limits on how much money corporations and unions could give to political contenders. This was, and is, a continuation of the judicial assumption corporations have, not just the same rights of individuals, but more rights. The Supreme Court’s decision had the long term effect of destroying campaign finance reform laws. Laws which limited the size of donations to politicians running for office. To put it another way, bribery by way of large donations was once again made legal.

Dark Money describes donations given to nonprofit organizations who can legally take unlimited donations from corporations, individuals, and unions, but are not required to disclose the donors. The New York Times editorial board has determined the 2014 federal mid-term elections were influenced by “the greatest wave of secret, special-interest money ever raised in a congressional election.” It has been predicted the 2016 elections will be far worse.

This convoluted and nationally destructive situation stems directly from the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision. (And indirectly, from the Supreme Court’s efforts in the early 1800s to simplify laws concerning corporate behavior, assigning them “personhood” for purposes of taxation, lawsuits, etc. The United States is the only country in the world to grant legal personhood to a corporation. In other countries, corporations and businesses are not considered people, and have no rights.)

The dark money starts flowing, in the form of donations, when a politician is running for office. After negotiations have been completed, large donations are essentially laundered through a nonprofit PAC or Super PAC. The money can then be used for essentially any purpose. (Not all politicians are corrupt, but it does seem to be a large percentage.) “Career” politicians aren’t actually working for their constituents, but have invested their time in a long-term career of working as government liaisons for major corporations, or very wealthy individuals. But dark money is used for more than simply getting a person elected to office. It can also be used for swaying the opinions of the general public.

This year, according to Karla Swift, millions of dollars in dark money are going to be spent coordinating an attack on Michigan’s labor unions. In a leaked letter, written by former Republican Supreme Court Justice Cliff Taylor, on behalf of the Mackinac Center, a plan was presented which promoted creating and distributing junk research to lawmakers, launching an online campaign of propaganda to discredit unions, and filing multiple frivolous lawsuits against unions. The long-term goals of this project are to deceive workers and steadily drive down union memberships, and to promote the passage of “right-to-work for less” legislation in states such as New Mexico, Delaware, and New Jersey. The plan is to spend $4.35 million on this particular “dark money” program. (Consider the dark money programs we don’t know about.)

Dark money has also been used to spread disinformation about climate change, according to the Guardian. The ‘Donors Trust’ and the ‘Donors Capital Fund,’ secretly spent approximately $125 million, over three years, to spread disinformation about climate change and global warming. (See Dark Money ATM.)

Aside from the blatant deceit and greed needed to set these programs up, time, energy, and money are wasted as governments and judges seek to find the truth. Funding that should be used to maintain our infrastructure gets sent to the judicial branches of our governments to determine the truth. Special task forces are created to investigate the truth of “junk science” claims, spending millions of dollars in the process. Tax dollars are funneled to projects that provide no material benefits.

Very few of us are enraged by the fact dozens of major corporations pay no taxes. (Donations/bribes paid for this freedom, or lack of responsibility.) We have simply become numb to what should be considered outrageous behavior. Donors with deep pockets, such as GE, Boeing, Exxon Mobil, Verizon, Citigroup, Dow, pay millions of dollars to lobbyists for their special tax status. In return, they save billions and billions of dollars. Ignoring the gifts and trips discretely paid for by lobbyists to our congressional representatives, did you know almost half of our former members of Congress (from 1998 to 2004) were offered jobs as lobbyists? This is the second phase of a federal congress-person’s career. These positions pay an average fourteen times their former congressional salary. Some members of congress are receiving corporate pay before they’re elected, after they’re elected, and after they are out of office.

In Michigan, state revenue numbers show the net income tax of businesses has dropped by 90% since 2011. “The fact that wealthy corporations are contributing less to the state budget than those subject to an excise tax on tobacco should be a real wake-up call to how little wealthy corporations are currently paying in taxes,” Democratic House Minority Leader Tim Greimel said during an interview. It is no surprise Michigan has no money for repairing its roads.

Offering someone a high paying job to pass legislation, which supports and helps a corporation, and damages the general public, is in fact a bribe. A business, such as Exxon Mobil, not paying billions of dollars in taxes, damages the government, government programs, and ultimately, the U.S. population. Would the Federal Government be in debt if companies such as Dow paid taxes?

Douglas Hughes, a 61-year-old U.S. citizen, decided he had had enough of watching the deterioration of democracy in the United States of America. After two and a half years of planning ‘Project Kitty Hawk,’ and two interviews with the CIA, Hughes climbed into his gyrocopter and flew from Gettysberg, PA to the U.S. Capital. He carried 535 letters, one for each member of Congress, demanding they rid elections of big money.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Hughes stated, the United States is “heading full-throttle toward a breakdown. There’s no question that we need government, but we don’t have to accept that it’s a corrupt government that sells out to the highest bidder.” Hughes added, “I have thought about walking away from this whole thing because it’s crazy. But I have also thought about being 80 years old and watching the collapse of this country and thinking that I had an idea once that might have arrested the fall and I didn’t do it.” He then stated, “And I will tell you completely honestly, I’d rather die in the flight than live to be 80 years old and see this country fall.” Douglas Hughes does not qualify as a passive observer, nor does he qualify as a lunatic from the fringes of society. His actions are the result of a very concerned citizen.

Curiously, American television news’ coverage of this event focused primarily on the flaws and weaknesses of White House Security, all but ignoring the “message” of his trip. There’s little information available about why the television media chose to ignore the message, instead focusing on the superficial aspects of his trip. It may be they simply quoted security officials who were more concerned with security than with Hughes’ letters to individual members of congress. Superficial reporting, with little or no research, is quite common these days, especially on television.

Hughes is currently on paid leave from his Post Office job and wears an ankle bracelet. His hearing is scheduled for June 20, 2015, and he was charged with operating an unregistered aircraft and violating restricted airspace. Violating national defense airspace and operating a vehicle falsely labeled as a postal carrier were later added to the charges. Additionally, he may lose his job.

Doug Hughes risked his quiet, stable life, and his future, for the good of this country. If the United States of America is going to survive as a functional democracy, what sacrifices are you willing to make? With the upcoming elections, and all the money flowing in that direction, can we allow the issue of campaign finance reform to fall through the cracks?


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