Monday, August 20, 2012

When the apple falls far, far from the tree

Former U.S. Congressman and Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer recently dropped his long-shot presidential aspiration to tackle an even more daunting goal: reforming our corrupt campaign finance practices.

Gov. Roemer even appeared before Congress last month to testify about the malign effects of unfettered campaign contributions on our political system. At a hearing entitled “Taking Back Our Democracy: Responding to Citizens United and the Rise of Super PACs,” Roemer complained that “Our institutional corruption places our elections in the hands of the mega contributors.”

Taking his argument just a bit further, the former governor said “The system is not broke … It’s bought.”

The theme of Roemer’s testimony, according to this article by Advocate Washington Bureau Chief Jordan Blum, was “the need to enact campaign finance reform and rein in runaway corporate spending in elections.”

It is a message apparently lost on his politically ambitious son, Chas, and other members of the state board of education who have thrown in with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s radical education agenda.

According to campaign finance reports, Chas Roemer was the beneficiary of $597,142.15 during last fall’s campaign for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The bulk of Chas’ contributions, more than $248,000, came from the Republican Party of Louisiana.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, through its network of PACS, put $87,500 into the Roemer campaign.

The ABC Pelican PAC, the political arm of the Associated Builders and Contractors, contributed $20,000 to Chas’ campaign.

Gov. Jindal himself donated $15,000 to Roemer’s campaign.

The Standard Companies of New Orleans, a beverage company subsidiary of DS Waters of America, put up $14,000.

Publishing magnate Rolf McCollister gave Roemer $6,000, on top of invaluable column inches in his newspaper.

From its offices in Virginia, the pro-voucher Louisiana Federation of Children’s PAC sent another $6,000.

Roemer’s closest competitor, former Ascension Parish Superintendent of Schools Superintendent Donald Songy, raised a total of $56,660 for the race (full disclosure: the Louisiana Federation of Teachers contributed less than $6,000 Songy’s campaign).

Given that disparity in resources – nearly $600,000 versus less than $57,000 – Roemer was able to mount a very effective, and very negative, multi-media campaign that overwhelmed Songy.

Roemer was not the only candidate blessed by Jindal and his big business friends. Candidates allied with the governor amassed contributions of more than $2.8 million. Even New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got into the act, donating $55,000 to Jindal’s candidates. The closest competitors to the Jindal ticket raised a combined total of less than $348,000.

The money fueled a tsunami of advertising that had never been seen in BESE races, guaranteeing a victory for Gov. Jindal’s forces.

The immediate result of the election was the anointing of John White as superintendent, followed by a BESE kowtow to whatever privatization scheme the governor proposes. Which, as blogger Mike Deshotels writes here, means that hundreds of millions of dollars will soon be siphoned away from public schools into the pockets of “course choice providers” linked to big business.

Buddy Roemer is right. Big money donors and their unlimited contributions are the major corrupting factors in American politics. When will he tell Chas?

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