In 2008, then-Governor Rod Blagojevich was caught on tape discussing plans to essentially auction off the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama, calling it "f*****g golden." Two years later, a confluence of Republican front groups think that Senate seat is still for sale. The $9 million they've poured into this race has funded a litany of debunked attack ads. The choice voters face this election isn't just about whether we move forward or let Republicans drag us back to failed Bush policies. Voters also face another choice: do we stand up as citizens to reclaim ownership of our democracy or do we allow a cabal of plutocrats to purchase that democracy, one seat at a time?
American Crossroads, the New Prosperity Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Action Network, the Committee for Truth in Politics and other front groups aren't just trying to buy President Obama's Senate seat. They're trying to buy elections from coast to coast with a tsunami of spending whose aim is to drown out the voices of those who dare to stand up for the middle class.
Much of the press coverage of these shadow groups has focused on the process points: Who funds them? How many millions have they put up in a given race? What are Democrats going to do to fight back? However, the sheer size of the spending begs one question that hasn't been closely examined: why?
Why would Republican billionaires and CEOs create this multi-tentacled smear machine and set it loose against Democrats? What benefit do they gain from their massive investment?
One need look no further than the voting record of Republican Congressman Mark Kirk to get the answer.
Over his decade-long career in Washington, Mark Kirk has rarely refused to the bidding of his big donors. MarketWatch labeled him a "pig at the trough of Wall Street" for his addiction to Wall Street cash, and he consistently ranks as one of the top recipients of financial industry donations in the entire Congress. While he now falsely claims to be a "deficit hawk," Kirk voted for every single one of the disastrous Bush budgets that exploded our national debt and wreaked havoc on our economy. He has stated that unemployment isn't "a big issue." He has voted against reining in abuses by big banks and health insurance companies. He held what he called a "Beijing fundraiser" with donors in China and the very next day voted against closing the tax loopholes which encourage outsourcing to countries like China. And on the common-sense issue of student loan reform, he couldn't even muster up the courage to break with his donors and side with those yearning for an affordable education.
Match up the voting records of Republicans with the map of where these third-party groups are investing and the pattern is clear: the millions spent in key Senate and House races by these shadow groups serve both as payment for services rendered by the Republican Party over the last decade and as a down payment for the future carnage Republican policies will inflict on an already decimated middle class.
The most bitter element of their scheme is that it is deployed on the backend of a recession. Millions of Americans who are wondering how they'll survive until their next paycheck simply can't afford to make any political donations, much less make them in an amount necessary to compete with the blizzard of cash these Republican groups are showering on their pet candidates.
In my own race, I don't take a dime from corporate PACs or federal lobbyists. I won't take their money, and I won't vote their way. Our campaign has relied on true grassroots donations to fund our positive message of job creation and government reform. I've heard voters tell me "I can't really afford to donate $5, but I can't afford not to." Citizens across the state recognize that the very concept of a government "of, by and for the people" is under attack, and I am incredibly humbled and thankful for the thousands of small dollar donors who are fighting back.
At the end of the day, the most valuable contribution made to a campaign is a single vote, which when joined with millions of others can be a clarion call for true change. These shadow groups are beating Democratic candidates in the air war, outspending us by previously unfathomable margins as they try to buy our elections. But they can't buy what's not for sale.
Democrats here in Illinois and across the country have made millions of voter contacts, knocking on doors and calling up voters urging them to stand up and proclaim their ownership in our democracy with their vote. That energy and that fierce desire to reclaim our politics is priceless, and it's what will help Democrats cross the finish line strong on Election Day.