Like everyone else, we watched the movie of the week — that clandestine video from Mitt Romney's fundraiser in Florida. Thanks to that anonymous cameraperson, we now have a record of what our modern day, wealthy gentry really thinks about the rest of us — and it's not pretty.
On the other hand, it's also not news. If you had reported as long as some of us have on winner-take-all politics and the unenlightened assumptions of the moneyed class, you wouldn't find the remarks of Romney and his pals all that exceptional. The resentment, disdain and contempt with which they privately view those beneath them are an old story.
In fact, the video's reminiscent of our first Gilded Age, back in the late 19th century. The celebrated New York dandy Frederick Townsend Martin summed it up when he declared, "We are the rich. We own America. We got it, God knows how, but we intend to keep it."
And so they do, as that glitzy gathering in Florida reminds us. You could see and hear one of the guests ask Mitt Romney what they could do to help. The governor answers, "Frankly, what I need you to do is to raise millions of dollars, because the president's going to have about $800 to $900 million. And that's — that's by far the most important thing you could do."
He's being truthful there, because money rules these campaigns. And if there were more secret videos from other candidates, we would see them in equally compromised positions, bowing and scraping in their infernal pursuit of campaign cash, bending over backwards to suffer the advice that the privileged think their money entitles them to give.
And we mean both parties. Not far from us the other night, at a Manhattan fundraiser hosted by Jay-Z and Beyoncé, President Obama joked, "If somebody here has a $10 million check — I can't solicit it from you, but feel free to use it wisely." At least we think he was joking — Obama and Romney alike now shape their schedules as much around moneymaking events as rallies and town halls. Even though a state may be a lost cause when it comes to votes, if there's money to be made they'll change the campaign jet's flight plan and make a special landing, just for the cold hard cash.
This is a racket, plain and simple. A new report from Moody's Investor Service says that all that spending by the parties, corporations, super PACs and other outside groups will push political ad spending up this year by half a billion dollars — 25 percent higher than 2010 – the biggest increase in history. That prompted the CEO of CBS, Leslie Moonves, to lick his chops and tell an investors conference last December, "There's going to be a lot of money spent. I'm not saying that's the best thing for America, but it's not a bad thing for the CBS Corporation." Yes, the media giants and the TV stations they own are in on the racket.
So are all those highly paid political consultants who as part of their fees skim a percentage of the cost of local TV airtime, usually around ten percent. The pickings are better than ever, thanks to all the dark money being thrown around since the Citizens United decision. One Democratic consultant has called it "the greatest windfall that ever happened for political operatives in American history." You bet it is: By the time the primaries were over this year, the top 150 political and media consultants already had raked in an estimated $465 million — or more. When Election Day finally rolls around, chances are that number will have at least doubled.
So we can't stop reporting on this, even though we're often told: "Please change the subject. Everyone's tired of this one." Don't be so sure. There's a groundswell for rooting the money out of politics, as Americans come to see that this is the one reform that enables all other reforms. Two polls released in the last few days report large majorities — as many as eight in ten — are in favor of clamping down on the amount of money that corporations, the super-rich, and those shadowy outside groups are pouring into the campaigns. It's up to all of us to put a sign on every lawn and stoop in the land: "Democracy is not for sale."