New York, NY - At a time when it's become a cliché to say that Occupy Wall Street has changed the nation's political conversation - drawing long overdue attention to the struggles of the 99 per cent - electoral politics and the 2012 presidential election have become almost exclusively defined by the one per cent. Or, to be more precise, the .000063 per cent. Those are the 196 individual donors who have provided nearly 80 per cent of the money raised by Super PACs in 2011 by giving $100,000 or more each.
These political action committees, spawned by the Supreme Court's 5-4 Citizens United decision in January 2010, can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, or unions for the purpose of supporting or opposing a political candidate. In theory, Super PACs are legally prohibited from coordinating directly with a candidate, though in practice they're just a murkier extension of political campaigns, performing all the functions of a traditional campaign without any of the corresponding accountability.
If 2008 was the year of the small donor, when many political pundits predicted that the fusion of grassroots organising and cyber-activism would transform how campaigns were run, then 2012 is "the year of the big donor", when a candidate is only as good as the amount of money in his Super PAC. "In this campaign, every candidate needs his own billionaires," wrote Jane Mayer of The New Yorker.
"This really is the selling of America," claims former presidential candidate and Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean. "We've been sold out by five justices thanks to the Citizens United decision." In truth, our democracy was sold to the highest bidder long ago, but in the 2012 election the explosion of Super PACs has shifted the public's focus to the staggering inequality in our political system, just as the Occupy movement shined a light on the gross inequity of the economy. The two, of course, go hand in hand.
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