Posted on billboards in predominantly minority neighborhoods in the swing states of Ohio and Wisconsin, the ads were designed to do one thing—intimidate potential Democratic voters. The ads warned that voter fraud is a felony, punishable by imprisonment and fines. Of course, there had been no significant voter fraud in the neighborhoods where the ads were sited—or, in fact, anywhere in the United States. But to those who funded the ads, that particular truth didn’t matter.
After thousands of citizens signed a petition for the deletion of the message, Clear Channel, which owns the billboards, complied. But damage had already been done, and a mystery abides. Who paid for the ads? Clear Channel, which is owned by Bain Capital and whose directors have donated heavily to the Romney Campaign, isn’t telling. In fact, Clear Channel made an exception to its rule against advertiser anonymity to put the ads up in the first place.
Welcome to the Post-Citizens United World, where big money speaks loudly and often anonymously. And the money isn’t limited to swing states. In Vermont, a Super Pac called Vermonters First has hit the airwaves with ads opposing health care reform and backing Republican candidates at the state level. The name of the organization suggests a group of concerned citizens. But journalistic sleuthing has revealed that Vermonters First is essentially funded by one person—Lenore Broughton, who has pumped over $680,000 into the Super PAC. In a state as small as Vermont, that’s enough to swing an election—and maybe deny an entire state the right to health care.
More than any before, this election has shown just how ugly things can get when big, anonymous money becomes a dominant player. The political “dialogue” becomes dueling monologues of distorted information, half-truths, and outright lies. Is this any way to run a democracy?