With a growing disconnect and increasing takeover of the party by lobbyist interests, the American Opportunity Alliance is looking to change the issues Republicans address.
In Indiana, a red state currently under the control of Republicans, legislators attempted to push forward a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
While Indiana already has a law that criminalizes same-sex marriage, gay-rights opponents are seeking constitutional protection to make overturning the law more difficult. This is happening at the same time other states like Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia have tried to enact similar laws, but have been struck down in the federal courts.
In Utah, U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R – Utah) told the Utah State Legislature that due to the Congress’ “mistrust” of President Obama, immigration reform will not be a top priority for him and is unlikely to pass this year.
Frustration with the Republicans’ failed attempts to curtail the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, which ultimately led to a government shutdown, and a resistance to granting legal status to illegal immigrants are among the reasons cited by Stewart for the Republican recalcitrance.
Republicans have grown increasingly separated from public polling and trends regarding these key issues. Many have argued that the influence of mega-donors have warped the party’s platform in such a severe manner that the needs and concerns of the party’s constituency are not being met or addressed in any significant way.
Changing the conversation
A group of Republican mega-donors, however, are working to alter the Republicans’ attitudes on immigration and same-sex marriage. With the underreported launch of the American Opportunity Alliance, New York billionaire Paul Singer, outspoken in his support of immigration reform and gay rights, has gathered together a pro-business coalition of some of the wealthiest GOP donors in the nation.
Singer, additionally, has founded the federal fundraising committee Friends for an American Majority that is offering huge sums for some of the Republicans’ 2014 Senate hopefuls.
American Opportunity Alliance is planning a two-day retreat for the last week in February in Colorado, where big-name Republican figures, such as U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R – Ohio) and U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R – N.H.), are expected to attend. While American Opportunity Alliance is not planning a strategy along the lines of Charles and David Koch’s donor network — in which large sums of money is collected and spent on multi-million dollars advertising and candidate-support campaigns — the presence of Boehner and other high-profile Republican leaders suggest that a very few individuals now hold critical influence in the nation’s elections.
This has created a situation in which the party no longer controls its own platform. Decisions on policy are now being made by mega-donors. This bears the threat of the American democratic tradition devolving into a de facto plutocracy.
Money in campaigns
This is not solely a Republican issue. While less reluctant to offer big money donations, Democratic mega-donors — particularly, through the Democratic Alliance, which includes deep-pockets such as tech entrepreneur Tim Gill, insurance magnate Peter Lewis or billionaire George Soros, have made a marked impact on the 2012 elections.
As reported by Demos.org, $1.28 billion was spent on outside spending in the 2012 elections. These funds derived from super PACS, union and corporate contributions, donations from individuals and “public welfare organization” spending. Of this total, 23 percent, or $298,904,158, cannot be traced back to its original source.
“The two major party presidential nominees have reported raising a combined total of $285.2 million from small donors giving less than $200 according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which came from at least 1,425,500 individuals. Just 61 donors (individuals and institutions) giving an average of $4.7 million each to Super PACs matched the total contributions of these small donors,” wrote Demos.org in its analysis.
“Because of their wealth and the Supreme Court’s equation of money with speech, those very large donors are able to amplify their voices to more than 23,000 times the volume of an average small donor.”
Using big money to fight big money
With 90 percent of all Americans feeling that it is somewhat important that the role of money in politics be reduced, the ever-increasing presence of big money is creating a situation in which the government is growing increasingly divorced for the will of the people. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission made political spending a recognized form of free speech, it has become increasingly difficult for less-connected candidates to counter the ability for the wealthy to upturn and seize an election.
The Democratic Alliance is trying to fight this by creating a fund that will allow less-connected candidates access to funds to combat super PAC-funded candidacies. Fund for the Republic and Action for the Republic are seeking mega-donations from donors, fundraisers and activists toward raising $40 million in an attempt to use big money to fight big money in politics.
This money will be used to help expand existing reform groups, promote grassroot advocacy concerning money in politics, recruit new donors and oppose campaigns of incumbents that oppose campaign reform. An early target for Action for the Republic is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – Ky.).
“If we don’t solve this problem quickly, we’re going to have a problem because everyone is going to accept it as normal,” said Larry Lessig, a professor with Harvard Law School that works with Fund the Republic, stressing that the fund is working to recruit Republican supporters as well. “But I don’t think that, in the short term, the fact that people are playing by the system doesn’t mean that they don’t want the system changed.
“It has this kind of huge irony on the surface, but I think most people can see beyond that to recognize this is not about how to make rich people more powerful,”continued Lessig. “If big donors give big money to support removing the power of big donors to affect politics in the future, that’s not self-serving. That’s trying to change the democracy in a good way.”