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Campaign cash: Sen. Jim DeMint's making a mint with corporate cash

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Corporate cash does funny things to people. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) got into office by pledging to fight "special interests," but just a decade or so later, he's running one of the biggest special interest shows in Washington. It's easy to see the appeal. As the fancy funding backing the Tea Party demonstrates, big money buys big things -- from elections to populist outrage.

In a piece for Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard details some of DeMint's serious campaign finance flip-floppery. During his first bid for Congress in 1998, DeMint denounced the Political Action Committee (PAC) mechanism as a tool deployed by "special interests" that "corrupts" the electoral process. But today, DeMint is the single most important figure and fundraiser for Senate Tea Party races. He has endorsed and pledged millions of dollars to support fringe right-wingers Senate candidates Christine O'Donnell (Delaware) and Rand Paul (Kentucky). DeMint has funneled this money through his own Political Action Committee (PAC) known as the Senate Conservatives Fund.  DeMint even pledged to "fight for reforms that allow only individual contributions to campaigns."

But as I note in a blog for Campaign for America's Future, DeMint isn't the only power player pouring money into the Tea Party. DeMint's 12 Tea Party Senate candidates have reaped over $4.6 million from Wall Street for this election -- excluding Wall Street cash that has been funneled through DeMint's PAC. So much for all that grassroots rage against bailed-out elites.

The Tea Party bubble

And Wall Street's new Tea Party investment might just be the next big economic bubble. Joshua Holland at AlterNet surveys the campaign contributions of America's bailout barons. The 23 firms that received at least $1 billion in bailout money from taxpayers spent $1.4 million on campaign contributions -- in September alone.

And these are just campaign contributions, which are essentially unaffected by the high court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The real corporate money is running through front-groups that run their own ads -- not the official campaigns operated by political candidates. And these front-groups don't have to disclose where their money comes from.

Writing for Campus Progress, Simeon Talley highlights a frightening trend toward secrecy in U.S. elections, fueled by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Back in 2004, 98 percent of outside groups disclosed who their donors were. Today, that number is just 32 percent. We're not just fighting corporate money bombs, we're fighting secret corporate money bombs.

Who really has the advantage?

While there's been much debate over who really comes out on top thanks to the post-Citizens United rules, Jesse Zwick notes for The Washington Independent, these stories are only talking about direct campaign contributions. Some might argue that Democrats have an advantage in disclosed funding, but Republicans have a six-to-one advantage money flowing through outside groups.

But wait, there's more!

--Check out Matthew Reichbach and Trip Jennings' reporting for The New Mexico Independent on the fact that all of this spending from outside groups usually means money from outside the states where candidates are running. Outside expenditures have swelled to $5 million in two New Mexico House races -- both in relatively cheap media markets.

--AlterNet has been running loads of stories on crooked corporate cash, covering everything from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's dirty dealings with AIG to the political spending habits of bailed-out banks. Joshua Holland rounds up eight of the articles here for AlterNet.

--Comic artist Matt Bors makes light of America's new "growth industries" at Campus Progress, pointing to makers of anonymous political attack ads.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the mid-term elections and campaign financing by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit The Media Consortium for more articles on these issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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