Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How the money machine rolls

     Marva Beck told a reporter that her first priority as a new state representative is a tougher voter identification law.


     Not, say, to help Texas schools address ever-accumulating and costly state mandates? Not to better serve the mentally ill? Not to dig the state out of its Texas-sized hole in addressing its transportation needs?

     No, the Centerville Republican will go to Austin banging pots and pans to ward off something that rarely presents itself in real life: the threat to the republic that is illegal voters.

     Don't believe that this is a partisan red-state herring? Don't rely on me. Ask Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott. He did a full-court press to catch illegal voters a couple of years ago. He ended up prosecuting not quite enough of them to have a full-court game of basketball.

     Voter ID efforts stir Republican politicos to song, though they affect average citizens almost not all all. A learned response is that for the GOP it's more about suppressing the participation of a class of voters that trends Democrat  — the poor, the black, the brown — than actually preventing illegal acts.

     I remark on the general puniness of Beck's top priority because she just staged a tremendous upset. The political novice defeated seven-term state Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco.

     A tremendous effort by moneyed interests successfully targeted Dunnam, leader of the House Democrats. Beck, wholly obscure outside of her Leon County environs, became the vessel to place the TNT in Dunnam's loafers.

      Another reason to remark on this is that Beck's victory so clearly epitomized those across the state and nation, where money spoke every bit as loudly as voting blocs.

      No offense to the fine folks and livestock of Central Texas, but there's not $1.5 million worth of political real estate in House District 57, which Beck now will represent. That's how much money was poured into it by both candidates.

      And while Beck will claim to have staged a door-knocking grassroots revolt, business-interests behemoth Texans for Lawsuit Reform paid for spreading much of the manure — nearly $600,000 worth of it, according to the Texas Ethics Commission. Among other things, this booty helped finance a succession of glossy direct-mail missives seemingly without end. Not cheap.

      Money. Money. Money.

      Nationwide, $4 billion was spent on drilling messages into your brain, mostly through TV. Eduardo Porter in the New York Times calculated that the price of a vote — $33 in an already obscenely costly 2008 campaign, went up to $43 this time.

      "Democracy Now" host Amy Goodman is one who ever has her eyes on the prize of justice for all — in contrast to those who think what's best for the country is to keep marginalized people down. An advocate of public campaign financing and free candidate air time, she points out a truth: "Media corporations are making such a killing . . . Yet the broadcasters are using public airwaves."

      Who was paying for all of this? On national scale, it generally was anonymous donors, dominated by corporations and unions.

      Before this Congress wheezes to a halt, it needs to go strong to the hoop on a bill that would take away this mask of anonymity and make major players stand for the attacks they finance. This interest should cut both ways. In fact, one Republican, new Sen.-elect Mark Kirk, R-Ill., has said he might support the Disclose Act, which would lift the veil on now-nameless campaign funds.

       As for Texas: It is more in the spell of big money than ever before. People without means have less of a voice than ever before. Achingly obvious transportation needs have less of a voice than ever before. Teachers have less of a voice than ever before.

       Now, let's go out and find us some illegal voters. Gotta be some out there somewhere.

       Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did you save the pole they rode you out of town on, John?