Election 2014  
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How the Rich Are Turning State and Local Races Into Their Own Personal Political Playgrounds

2012's unregulated and unrestrained campaign spending isn't confined to the presidential race.

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Where Sinquefield is more focused on private profits, Gil arguably is more focused on civil rights. But in many states, the biggest moneymen—and occasionally women—occupy a world dominated by greys, where public and private goals are blurred.

In Michigan, for example, there’s a big money fight over increasing the required amount of renewable energy feeding utilities. On one hand, it’s clearly a pro-environment effort. Yet proponents would also stand to profit by the adoption of alternative energy sources. Utilities are opposing it, of course, to preserve their profits, and are using every available tactic in 2012, including independent expenditures. PoliticalAdSleuth.com, a journalism website tracking media buys in real time based on Federal Communication Commission filings, said the fight and another state ballot item about building a new bridge to Canada has made Grand Rapids into one of 2012’s biggest media markets for ad wars.

In Florida, the Palm Beach Post reports that one of that state’s most forceful new players is not the Republican Party, but a pro-corporate warrior woman—Nancy Watkins—who runs 120 political committees. “Hey, I’m 5-foot-1 and 110 pounds. There’s nothing scary about me,” she told the paper. “But, you know, and I realize this is not always artfully said, I do believe that corporations are people and they have a right to be heard.” 

What’s undeniable in 2012 is that politics has become an ever-expanding playground for the richest Americans—and not just at the top of the ticket and presidential campaign. In the post- Citizens United world, the role of average citizens is shrinking while the role of wealthy people and shadowy front groups has grown. There’s a word for that. It’s not democracy, but called a plutocracy.


Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, the low-wage economy, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).