“The flood of money that gushes into politics today is a pollution of democracy.”
– Theodore H. White
By Glynn Wilson –
“Politics and money go together like whiskey and cocaine,” a Republican friend of mine used to say. “You can do one without the other, but it’s not quite the same.”
I could get him in trouble, but I can’t reveal his name.
“The history of money in American politics is one of shady characters and a dramatic battle between the forces of reform and influence that goes back more than 250 years before the birth of the super-PAC,” says Mother Jones magazine out of San Francisco.
So let’s not be naive and believe that we will ever get the influence of money out of politics, certainly not in a capitalist country like the United States of America, where private property rights are enshrined in the Constitution.
The Fifth Amendment says, “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
The Fourteenth Amendments’ due process clause reads, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
It has been with us from the start. Even Mark Twain wrote quite a bit about it back in his day of writing funny columns for newspapers.
“I think I can say, and say with pride, that we have some legislatures that bring higher prices than any in the world,” Twain once quipped.
That is even more true today, with the high cost of political campaigns busting off the charts and the effort to push public financing of campaigns all but dead since Barack Obama opted out in 2008 to take the flood of private money he was able to raise through email.
Even the great American President Abraham Lincoln who saved the Union had to put up with some shady characters and a little vote buying here and there to do the great thing of passing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawing slavery. That was depicted in the Steven Spielberg movie that came out a few years ago, after Obama was elected as the first African-American president.
It must seem like eons ago, what with the warp speed of change in politics and society now, but we ran stories about the problems of money in politics back in 2014. You can’t just keep beating a dead horse from day to day, however, or people will get tired of it and go find something else to read and watch.
The outsized influence of Big Money on national elections is well-documented, but this report on the local impact of the Supreme Court’s 2011 Citizens United vs. FEC ruling had not been fully realized, until then. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law published a landmark report documenting how secret donations have corroded democracy at the state level, where it is “arguably most damaging.”
Why This is Important Now
The salience of this today and why we bring it up now is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other big money donors are playing another dangerous game to fool people into voting against their self-interest again in my home state of Alabama.
“His dark money forces will do anything to defeat Senator Doug Jones,” according to a political campaign website at OneAlabama.Com. “They are spending millions of dollars in false advertising about Doug because they don’t want voters in Alabama to know the truth about his record as Alabama’s senator.”
Two outside groups, not directly aligned with political parties but with ties to McConnell and Donald Trump, are pouring millions into a campaign to defeat Alabama’s newest Senator, who according to any objective analysis, has actually been showing up and doing the job of a United States Senator like no one the state has had in Washington since Howell Heflin.
One group is called Club For Growth. The other goes by the name of One Nation, perhaps a direct swipe at Jones and his campaign theme of One Alabama. This is McConnell’s idea of a sense of humor, playing politics with people’s live.
“They won’t tell you the truth, but Doug will, and here it is. One Nation is a dark money group aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They are hiding behind anonymous donors to attack Senator Jones with $3 million in negative ads. They know Senator Jones is an independent voice for Alabama, and are ALL IN to defeat him.”
Why are their ads misleading?
One ad falsely claims that Senator Jones ‘delayed support for small businesses,’ when in fact Senator Jones was able to secure $380 billion for small businesses, including $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for more COVID-19 testing.
FACT: Senator Jones helped secure $320 billion in additional PPP funding to help small businesses, with $60 billion set aside for smaller lending institutions hit hard by the pandemic.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce clearly disagrees with Mitch McConnell’s attacks. They’ve honored Senator Jones three times this year for his bipartisanship, leadership and pro-growth business record.
If this is an example of a flaming liberal, Alabama certainly doesn’t want to have anything to do with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who talked about the negative influence of money in politics from day one of his campaign.
The attack ad calls on Senator Jones to support legislation providing tax breaks for small businesses that have their PPP loans forgiven. That’s Paycheck Protection Program in case you didn’t get the meaning of the acronym.
“The problem is, Senator Jones is already sponsoring nearly identical legislation,” according to the Jones campaign. “Mitch McConnell knows that, he just doesn’t care about the truth.”
“Partisan extremists are simply using this legislation to stoke fear and divide people,” the Jones campaign says.
Another ad from this group claims that Jones supports so-called Sanctuary cities where alleged illegal immigrants are protected from federal arrest and prosecution, even though there is not one sanctuary city in Alabama since there is already a state law against it.
This is a classic case of political propaganda misdirection, attempting to fool enough of the people some of the time to win an election.
FACT: Alabama has no sanctuary cities, because they’re prohibited by a 2011 state law.
FACT: Senator Jones voted for a bipartisan bill with $25 billion in border security funding and a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers.
Who is Behind Club For Growth?
The Club For Growth is an outside group funded by out of state billionaires from cities like Chicago and Philadelphia, and it is going after Jones with roughly $1.7 million in attack ads.
While Jones’s opponent, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, has also been running ads claiming Jones is getting most of his money from out of state donors, look who is funding Tuberville’s campaign?
This group has raised more than $32 million for the 2020 election cycle, with more than half of that, $16.5 million, coming from one man from Illinois, Richard “Dick” Uihlein, a billionaire who supported former judge Roy Moore in 2017 with $100,000 in donations. He has been a Republican donor for decades, and increased his political giving after the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2011, a lawsuit that argued campaign money was equivalent to free speech itself under the First Amendment, a legal absurdity if there ever was one, according to many legal scholars on the right and the left.
According to newspaper reporting, Uihlen has a history of supporting far-right candidates like Ted Cruz of Texas and Roy Moore of Alabama. He was also a major donor to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for his attempt to bust the unions in that state. He has bankrolled efforts against gay and transgender rights too.
Just two men accounted for 75 percent of all the money Club for Growth has raised.
“Only a little more than one thousand dollars of that $32 million came from the state of Alabama,” according to OpenSecrets.Org.
This group spent nearly $3 million during the Republican primary attacking Republicans like Jeff Sessions, Bradley Byrne, Republican-Congressional nominee Jerry Carl and Jeff Coleman with misleading advertising, “trying to drive Alabamians apart,” according to the Jones campaign. “Now they’re attacking Senator Jones because they know he won’t be a rubber stamp for their agenda.”
Other big money donors to this so-called Club for Growth include Jeff Yass, a private equity billionaire from Philadelphia.
Another major funder is John Childs, an executive with Prudential Insurance Company and vice president of Canada Carbon, a mining company. He also worked for Thomas H. Lee Partners, where he arranged the purchase of the fruit drink company Snapple. He has a reported net worth of $1.2 billion.
Childs is a major Republican donor, giving $1 million to Mitt Romney’s campaign for president in 2012 and $1.1 million to the Club for Growth, as well as donating to the campaigns of Congressmen Eric Cantor and libertarians like Paul Ryan.
Of course his mug shot appeared in the news in February 2019, when Childs was charged with solicitation of prostitution in connection with a police investigation into Florida massage parlors. He denied the charges, but stepped down as chairman of J.W. Childs Associates.
But that did not stop him from continuing to fund right-wing Republican politicians, including Mitch McConnell and Tommy Tuberville.
Then another major funder is Ronald Cameron, the Arkansas poultry farm CEO and pandemic profiteer, one of those companies where workers got sick from COVID-19.
Cameron joined Mountaire in 1968, the sixth-largest poultry company in the U.S. He became president and CEO in 1978, after the death of his father. Of course he inherited his wealth and position, just like Donald Trump.
In 2009, Cameron was named the 14th richest person in Arkansas. He is a major donor to Arkansas politician Tom Cotton and The Club for Growth, according to reliable sources.
Cameron also donated $ 1 million to Freedom Partners in 2014, and in the Republican Party presidential primaries in 2016. He contributed $3 million to the Super PAC supporting Mike Huckabee. After Huckabee dropped out, he donated $5 million to Conservative Solutions PAC, which supported Marco Rubio of Florida, according to Open Secrets.
Why are these outside donors and their false political advertising bad for Alabama?
“They aren’t interested in what’s best for our state, they’re only interested in what’s best for their donors’ bottom line,” according to the Jones campaign. “They support dismantling Social Security and Medicare, which would hurt our seniors and deepen the economic crisis.”
They also oppose federally-backed flood insurance, considered essential to families and businesses on the Gulf Coast. They oppose improving the shipping channel in Mobile Bay, a project backed by both Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Tuscaloosa, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, as well as Senator Jones. They both argue it is critical to South Alabama’s long-term economic future.
The outside group has also criticized the Farm Bill, which provides vital support for the agriculture industry and big and small farmers in the state.
“The Club for Growth is attacking Doug with false claims about his voting record, trying to accuse the Senator who’s passed 21 bipartisan bills signed into law by President Trump of being a ‘Hollywood liberal,’ and that he hasn’t been tough on China,” the Jones campaign says. “Their ad wants you to believe that certain government funding — funding signed into law by President Trump — is going towards China’s ‘war machine,” a dissonant falsehood if there ever was one.
For the facts, see the New York Times coverage of that issue.
Their second ad is just as misleading, suggesting Senator Jones has a “liberal” voting record.
FACT: Senator Jones was awarded three times this year by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: 2020 U.S. Chamber Spirit of Enterprise Award, the Jefferson-Hamilton Award for Bipartisanship and the Abraham Lincoln Leadership for America Award.
FACT: Senator Jones passed 21 bipartisan bills signed into law by President Trump.
FACT: Working across the aisle, Senator Jones repealed a law known as the Military Widow’s Tax that for years had denied full Veterans Affairs and Department Of Defense benefits to surviving spouses of military veterans.
FACT: Senator Jones secured relief for farmers in the Wiregrass hit hard by hurricanes and tornadoes.
FACT: From his seat on the Armed Services Committee, Senator Jones supported the Defense Budget that delivers critical support for the military, veterans and includes incentives to bring back manufacturing jobs from overseas.
Another ad tried to smear Jones for representing former state Representative Oliver Robinson, an African-American lawmaker who was charged with and pleaded guilty to accepting bribes to help the Drummond coal company avoid responsibility for dangerously high levels of toxic pollution from industrial sites in North Birmingham.
For years, the mostly Black communities of north Birmingham had been exposed to dangerously high levels of toxic pollution from nearby industrial sites. One of the companies responsible for the pollution, The Drummond Company, wanted to skirt environmental laws requiring them to pay for the clean up of neighborhoods adjacent to their coking plant, so they bribed a local elected official to help them out.
Before he ran for the Senate, as a private defense attorney Jones represented Oliver Robinson when Robinson began his cooperation with authorities, and Robinson’s testimony against Drummond ultimately helped hold the company accountable.
Guess who Drummond Company is supporting for U.S. Senate in Alabama?
And why does Club for Growth support Tommy Tuberville?
“He supports privatizing Social Security and cutting Medicare,” says the Jones campaign.
Campaign Finance Records
Now for the facts on the official money being raised in the 2020 race of the U.S. Senate seat now held by Birmingham Democrat Doug Jones, according to Open Secrets.
According to the latest campaign finance reports from July, the Democrat Doug Jones had raised $14,299,888, spent $7,647,949, and had cash on hand of $8,783,104.
Republican Tommy Tuberville had raised $3,384,771, spent $2,833,486 and had $551,285 cash on hand.
Jones had raised $4,199,449, or about 30 percent of his money from small, individual contributions, and $7,683,090 or 53.73 percent from large individual contributions. Only 11.2 percent, or $1,590,288, came from PACS, or Political Action Committees.
Tuberville had raised only 15.85 percent of his money, $536,591, from small individual contributions. He raised $2,556,937, or 75.54 percent, from large individual contributions, and about 2 percent, or $67,234, from PACs, but that was before he spent a week in the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. in August raising money from conservative groups. That money should show up in the next round of campaign finance reports.
The reports from Open Secrets shows that Tuberville self-financed his own campaign to the tune of $250,000, which was 7.39 percent of his money at that point in the campaign.
To get an indication of where Tuberville is getting his money, his reported orporate contributors included Hometown Lenders ($36,900); the Flora-Bama Package & Lounge ($22,400); the Beasley Allen law firm ($20,000); Smith’s Inc. ($19,000); Broadway Group ($18,300); Econo-Med Inc. ($16,800); Southern Waste Systems ($16,800); HighPoint Holdings ($16,700); Colormasters ($16,000); Pepsi Cola Bottling Decatur ($15,600); D&J Enterprises ($14,000); Espy Co. (14,000); Ballard Partners ($14,000); Kent Companies ($14,000); Southern Risk Services LLC ($13,004); J&A Inc ($12,500); Mitchell Grocery ($11,600); Southern States Bank ($11,450); Stephens Group ($11,400); and Medical Properties Trust ($11,200).
The largest chunk of Tuberville’s money, as categorized by the sections on campaign finance reports, comes from Retirees ($340,204); followed by Real Estate ($183,510); Lawyers/Law Firms ($79,500); Health Professionals ($78,776); Food & Beverage companies ($60,115); General Contractors ($59,425); Crop Production & Basic Agricultural Processing ($46,150); Automotive companies ($46,050); Securities & Investment($43,100); Building Materials & Equipment ($42,120); Misc Manufacturing & Distributing ($41,027); Misc Business ($35,840); Special Trade Contractors ($34,600); Hospitals/Nursing Homes ($29,780); Misc Finance ($24,950); Education ($23,088); Insurance ($21,880); Misc Health ($21,775); Lobbyists ($20,300); Agricultural Services/Products ($20,300).
To get an idea of where Doug Jones is getting his campaign money, his largest corporate donor is the University of Alabama ($100,306); followed by Democracy Engine ($75,569); Paloma Partners ($66,900); University of California ($53,721); Motley Rice LLC ($40,699); Goldman Sachs ($37,127); Alphabet Inc or Google ($35,916); Paul Weiss et al ($34,067); WilmerHale Llp ($33,125); Covington & Burling ($30,737); Stanford University ($28,851); Walt Disney Co ($24,113); Blue Cross/Blue Shield ($24,062); BlackRock Inc ($23,908); Comcast Corp ($23,333); Sullivan & Cromwell ($23,282); Crowne Partners ($23,262); Williams, Hart et al ($22,400); Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett ($22,108); and AT&T Inc ($21,801).
The largest chunk of Doug Jones’ money is also coming from retirees ($4,480,363); Lawyers/Law Firms ($3,847,140); Education institutions ($2,398,023); Securities & Investment firms ($1,613,148) Health Professionals ($1,042,649); Real Estate ($1,001,448); Business Services ($855,318) TV/Movies/Music outfits ($811,458) Civil Servants or government employees and Public Officials ($709,315); Electronics Mfg & Equip companies ($641,425); Printing & Publishing companies like newspapers ($636,501); Democratic/Liberal individuals and groups ($612,886); Leadership PACs ($522,644), Misc Finance ($510,392); Non-Profit Institutions ($491,693); Internet donations ($481,972); Lobbyists ($389,467); Insurance companies ($376,383); Pharmaceuticals/Health Products companies ($323,375) and Commercial Banks ($288,447).
While these numbers are sure to change in the next round of reporting, so far Tuberville has received 69.2 percent of his contributions from in state donors ($1,836,433) and 30.8 percent from out of state donors ($819,089), while Jones has received 16.2 percent of his contributions from in state donors ($5,154,700) and 83.8 percent from out of state donors ($26,734,442) and $34,905 from donors reporting no state.
To get an idea of Outside Group influence on this campaign, the groups supporting the Republican include the Club for Growth Action Super PAC ($2,944,036); and the Club for Growth PAC ($16,492); Fighting for Alabama Fund Super PAC ($680,300); Senate Conservatives Fund PAC ($249,914); Grit Pac Super PAC ($144,277); Swamp Drainers Foundation Super PAC ($106,840); Restoration PAC Super PAC ($82,375); National Assn for Gun Rights PAC ($13,622); Conservatives for Alabama Super PAC ($87,000); Alabama Swamp Drainers PAC ($6,390); Stars & Stripes Forever PAC Super PAC ($4,237)
Groups that contributed to Democrats included the People For The American Way 501c ($76,340); Health Justice for All Carey ($1,530); and Together We Thrive Super PAC ($1,500).
Open Secrets also reports ad spending on the part of campaigns, and so far, Tuberville has spent $157,652 on ads online, including $142,552 on Google ads and $15,100 on Facebook ads.
Jones has spent $586,643 online for ads, including $69,900 for Google ads, and $516,743 for Facebook ads.
Tommy Tuberville declined to comment for this story on all the outside money flooding into Alabama, except to accuse Doug Jones of taking out of state money, while he is taking it too. They all do.
Full Disclosure: The Jones campaign has spent about $5,000 this year alone on web ads in the New American Journal. Tuberville’s campaign was offered advertising space, but declined. Other politicians are welcome to buy ad space here. We welcome it to cover the cost and expenses of reporting and writing about politics and public affairs. The Trump campaign is spending a fortune on Google ads, which sometimes show up in the New American Journal. We have no direct control over that, and only make a penny or so a click, but readers can click on the X in the top right-hand corner of the ads and report them as inappropriate.