They came. They spent! Then, they limped home, tails between their legs. (OK, they didn’t limp; they were flown home on their private Gulfstream jets. But still, their tails were tucked down in the defeat mode after the election.)
“They” are the far-right corporate billionaire extremists who tried to become America’s presidential kingmakers this year. Unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United edict allowing unlimited sums of cash in our elections, they spewed an ocean of money into efforts to enthrone Mitt Romney in the White House and turn the Senate into a GOP rubber stamp for totally corporatizing government.
On election night, they gathered at exclusive Romney victory parties, but the celebratory mood quickly soured, for key states were choosing Democrats. The people were speaking, and (damn them) they seemed to be deliberately voting against the barons.
Take casino baron Sheldon Adelson, for example. He became the 2012 caricature of an obscene billionaire trying to buy democracy. Adelson rolled the political dice on eight candidates, betting more than $60 million — and crapped out on all of them.
Also, the uber-arrogant Koch boys, Charles and David, amassed some $200 million from their corporate vault and from other billionaires to knock out President Obama. But at evening’s end, there the president stood, re-elected by a majority of voters and winning with more than 56 percent of the electoral votes.
And Bob Perry, another self-serving, ultra-rightist billionaire dumped $21 million into GOP Super PACs trying to win senate races in Florida and Virginia, as well as the presidency. All for naught.
Democrats not only gained two seats in the Senate, but new senators such as Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin and Mazie Hirono are expected to make the Senate more populist and much feistier. Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, Chris Murphy and Martin Heinrich are expected to make the Senate more progressive than it has been (admittedly a low standard) and less likely to support the kleptocracy the barons so dearly hoped to establish.
Of course, the billionaires aren’t through. They reckon that the roughly one billion bucks they put up this year just wasn’t enough firepower. So look for even more obscene spending in 2014 and 2016.
Meanwhile, let’s check in on the premier political bagman for moneyed corporations: Karl Rove. You know it’s been a good election night when he has a hissy fit on national television.
It came at just past 11p.m., after he heard a TV network declare Obama the winner in Ohio. This was not just any network; it was Fox, the Republican Party’s official propaganda machine! Rove, who is a rabidly partisan GOP politico and fundraiser, also doubles as an expert “analyst” for Fox. (Proof again that this network has amputated the word “conflict” from the ethical concept of “conflict of interest.” But I digress.)
Rove was sitting just off-camera on the Fox set when the on-air anchor team made the call on Ohio. In fact, he was on his cellphone at the time with a top Romney staffer who was wailing that Fox was wrong, that Romney was winning Ohio. With his right knee jerking furiously, Rove demanded to be put on the air to rebut the network’s own professional vote counters.
He got what he wanted, publicly chiding his Fox colleagues for being “premature.” This prompted an unusual moment of dead air, after which anchor Megyn Kelly said, “Well, that’s awkward.” Since every news outlet and even Republican Party officials were by then conceding Ohio (and the presidency) to Obama, Kelly asked whether Rove was using his own math just to “make himself feel better.”
Bingo! Karl the Kingmaker was having a really bad night. In the past year, he had talked assorted corporations and fat cats into putting some $256 million into his attack ads against Democrats, assuring the donors that their money and his political genius would put the White House and the Senate in GOP hands. He came up a bit short. For example, American Crossroads, one of Rove’s two political funds, spent $103 million to defeat Democratic Senate candidates, but the return on that investment was a pathetic 1 percent. Billionaires expect quite a bit better, so Rove had some explaining to do and some crow to eat.
By the way, in response to this brouhaha, Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show said, “‘Math You Do As a Republican To Make Yourself Feel Better’ is a much better slogan than the one Fox has now.” But again, I digress.
To be fair to the Karlmeister, his 1 percent return on the money he handled is not atypical of the secretive Republican political funds in this election. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce laid out $31 million in dark money and got a 5 percent return on their funders’ investment. Worse, the National Rifle Association surreptitiously invested $11 million in several Republicans — and got zero return.
As a researcher for the Sunlight Foundation, an independent watchdog group, put it: “It may mean people really don’t like big money in politics.”