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Pyle: The truth and returns on investments

Published November 9, 2012 5:26 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This is just between you and me. Really. You have to promise you won't tell anybody I said this.

But Citizens United may not be the end of democracy as we know it.

Heresy, I know. Progressive, good-government folks like me are supposed to look at the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that equated money with speech and opened the floodgates of SuperPAC spending the way vegans look at a bacon cheeseburger. With revulsion, disgust and just a little jealousy.

We thought Citizens United would take power away from the voters and hand it to the well-funded special interests.

Tell that to President-elect Romney.

Mitt was one of the major beneficiaries of a flood of supposedly uncoordinated ad buys over the past few months, particularly back when he was winding up his long fight for the Republican nomination and was short on the cash he needed to pivot into general election mode.

Among the more prolific donors was Sheldon Adelson, a ridiculously wealthy casino owner who had already burned some $20 million boosting Newt Gingrich's failed primary bids. Adelson also spent millions backing a handful of Senate and House candidates.

Every one of the six candidates he heavily backed, all conservative Republicans, lost.

And leave us not forget Utah's own Karl Rove, political mastermind of George W. Bush's ascendency to the White House. His PAC, American Crossroads, ran a stop sign or two by spending some $184 million — including $85 million spent dragging down Obama.

The Sunlight Foundation figures Rove's money helped defeat maybe three candidates and got exactly none elected. Among the targets who got away was a Montana Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester.

(Perhaps we should also figure in the Pyle Jinx. Of the three Rove-opposed candidates who actually lost, I've met two of them: Rep. Kathy Hochul, a one-term member of Congress from western New York, and Nebraska's Bob Kerrey, who failed to regain the Senate seat he gave up back in 2001.)

Rove's Election Night meltdown on Fox News must have come not just of his predictions being off, but his imagining how he was going to explain to his wealthy donors how their large investments had just gone poof.

At least as USA Today penciled it out, of the $1 billion spent on political activities this year, $715 million was anti-Democrat. That clearly shows that, if money were all that mattered, we'd be saying hello to a Romney in the White House and a Republican Senate.

It still matters how the money is spent, and in support of what candidates. Some analysts, such as David Weigel of Slate, watched many of the spots aired in the scorched-earth Senate and presidential campaigns in Ohio and decided they were just bad television.

There's also the matter of the alternative universe many Republican and conservative activists live in these days. Clearly, the drum beat of Fox News and right wing radio pushing lies about how a Kenyan-born Obama is going to take away all our guns sucked all the air out of the room and left no time for real Republican points about spending, defense or entitlements.

It all created, as has been pointed out elsewhere, a Republican echo chamber of foolish ideas that a majority of the electorate — a bare majority in some cases — didn't buy. Didn't even hear.

Right-wing pundits' straight-faced predictions of a Romney landslide slammed into the demographic facts of a changing America and of Republicans who weren't prepared to debate real issues because they were equipped with bogus talking points about death panels and black helicopters.

The fact remains that the reality-based community still needs a lot of money to keep up with the fearmongers of the right. That still means that everyone who gets elected is beholden to someone other than just the voters, and third-party and independent candidates are shut out. So money matters.

But, it seems, telling the truth can have a better return on investment.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, can be reached at gpyle@sltrib.com or via Twitter @debatestate. Really.






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