One of the most surprising developments in recent Nebraska political history was Deb Fischer's upset victory over Jon Bruning in the 2012 GOP Senate primary. As we've discussed here previously, Fischer's victory was made largely possible by approximately $2.3 million in negative ads directed at Bruning by Super PACs.
Perhaps the coup de grace for Bruning was the $300,000.00 in advertising from Ameritrade billionaire Joe Ricketts in the closing days of the campaign. Ricketts' devastating ad on Bruning's swift accumulation of vast wealth while living on a government salary was probably the turning point of the campaign.
Sources close to Bruning have speculated on the Ricketts' motivation for taking out the Attorney General. They have said that if Ricketts had contributed to Bruning, he would have just been one of numerous wealthy donors who had contributed to Bruning. However, Ricketts made this last minute play because he wanted to be the ONLY super wealthy donor had given to Fischer and made her nomination possible. Apparently, Mr. Ricketts wants to buy himself a U.S. Senator. As Bob Kerrey pointed out: "When he calls on her, what's he going to get?"
Just how did one billionaire essentially decide the outcome of the 2012 Nebraska Senate primary? It all became possible due to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the 2010 Citizens United decision. In this case, the five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court equated money with speech and legislated from the bench by creating an entirely new campaign finance system for campaigns in the U.S. This decision lifted all spending restrictions for the corporations and wealthy and allowed them to make donations to Super PACs in complete secrecy. The Citizens United decision (a/k/a legislation) has created a two tier campaign funding system: one with small donors and strict regulation, and second which exists for the very wealthy, who have been freed from regulation.
The impact on campaigns in the U.S. has been dramatic. Super PACs aligned with Mitt Romney essentially won the GOP nomination for him by running a series of negative ads that took out Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Those same Super PACs will now attempt to take out President Obama. It has been reported that the Super PACs plant to raise $1 billion on behalf of Romney and the GOP could end up out spending Obama and the Democrats by a 2-1 margin in the general election.
Thanks to the five activist Republican members of the U.S. Supreme Court, we now have political system that is no longer, one person, one vote. Instead, it is now one dollar, one vote. It is the moral equivalent of a national town hall meeting where a handful of billionaires and corporate CEOs are in the front row with bullhorns while the rest of us are about 50 rows back without even a microphone.
Just what impact has Citizens United had on the Nebraska Senate race between Kerrey and Fischer? It has caused Deb Fischer to run a cowardly and cynical campaign where she avoids debates, specific issue stands and engagement with the voters and the press. Fischer went so far as to duck a debate with Kerrey in front of the GOP aligned Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce on August 16. Kerrey correctly said: "Business leaders should not be given the cold shoulder. State Senator Fischer said during the Republican primary that we need to move away from sound bites and debate the issues. I hope she has not changed her mind." The Fischer campaign responded by citing it's usual focus group tested and vague talking points about cutting taxes and supporting a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
The Supreme Court's legislation in United Citizens has the potential to ruin the Senate general election campaign here in Nebraska. We might very well have the spectacle of the GOP Senate nominee basically going into hiding and hoping that the Super PACs will destroy Kerrey in the general election. As Democrats and Progressives, we can counter Fischer's cynical plan by working hard for Kerrey's campaign and contributing to it. The only way to pull Fischer out of her protective shell is to help Kerrey and make this a tight race this fall. In my opinion, the future of our state and nation depends upon it. The future of democracy has been imperiled by the five Republicans on the Supreme Court and we need to work hard to preserve it.