Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Supreme Court and The Sound of Elections To Come

Much political press has been given to the recent success of the Republican right wing, as "Tea Party" activists have wrested control of the GOP away from crazy namby pamby liberal RINO apologists like Karl Rove. Seriously. When the right wing's shouting heads are accusing Karl Rove of being inadequately Republican for having the audacity to note that a particular Tea Party candidate isn't well suited to the state she's running in, we've wandered into a very strange place.

While that whole sliding away into madness is certainly fascinating, I've been struck by something else more locally. In DC, Mayor Adrian Fenty has been ousted by DC Council Chair Vincent Gray in the primary. In part, this is Fenty's fault. He comes across as a serious SOB. He's not someone you like. But he's someone you can appreciate. He's a technocrat, a hard charging manager who suffers fools and the incompetent lightly, and he's made things notably and markedly better. He made a point of paring the bloated ranks of DC's governmental bureaucracy. In particular, he and his take-no-prisoners School Chancellor went after the outlandishly wretched DC school system, which spends more than $25,000 per year per pupil and yet still manages to have buildings falling apart.

In doing that, he made enemies, particularly in DC's teacher's union and the unions that represent the swollen ranks of DC's government workers. Vincent Gray has repeatedly and outspokenly spoken in defense of those poor teachers who were fired for the sole reason that they happened to be demonstrably crappy at their jobs. Unsurprisingly, Gray is the serious beneficiary of union support and endorsements.

But the union support for Gray manifested itself in a new way this primary season, and that augurs some interesting stuff in this next election cycle. I listen regularly to WTOP, an all news radio station that's the market leader for ratings here in the DC metro area. If you want to influence someone here, buying ad time on WTOP is the gold standard for broadcast media in Washington.

What I heard on WTOP, for the first time ever, were political ads. Yeah, we've all heard them before, but not like this. These were not ads run by the Gray campaign. They were ad buys funded entirely from the coffers of the unions Gray represents. The cash came not from shady organizations that were created as proxies, but was done openly and explicitly. We are the union. Vote for Gray.

This has not happened in prior elections, not in my lifetime. It's a direct result of a recent Supreme Court decision in which the conservative wing of the court ruled that corporations...and, by extension, unions and any other private interest... had the same right to openly support political candidates as individuals.

I haven't seen it yet on the national stage, but I can't imagine that 2010 will look quite like 2008. We've already seen NewsCorp, the corporate parent of FoxNews, funnel over $1,000,000 to the Republican governors association. As corporations and unions seek to defend their profits and their interests, I can expect that we'll see more and more of this.