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Will "No Labels" Usher in a Trump or DeSantis White House in 2024?
No Labels and the Corporate Problem Solvers are now playing with political fire, flirting with fielding a “moderate” (i.e. bought-off) candidate for president next year
Dark money is preparing to disrupt the 2024 election, and it could get really, really ugly. All because a large handful of corrupt politicians and washed-out political hacks are enthusiastic about doing the bidding of their largest donors.
— In the presidential election of 1968, George Wallace carried almost 14 percent of the national vote.
The South was still deeply Democratic (the big shift toward the GOP happened over the following decade) and had Wallace not carried Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi those states would have gone for Hubert Humphrey, making him president instead of Richard Nixon.
— In the presidential election of 2000, Ralph Nader received 97,421 in Florida.
That was the state on which the election turned, and George W. Bush carried by only 537 votes in the first count (the Florida Supreme Court-mandated recount was blocked by 5 Republicans on the US Supreme Court, handing the election to Bush). Political scientist Gerald Pomper wrote in a 2001 Political Science Quarterly article:
“[A]pproximately half (47 percent) of the Nader voters said they would choose Gore in a two-man race, a fifth (21 percent) would choose Bush, and a third (32 percent) would not vote. Applying these figures to the actual vote, Gore would have achieved a net gain of 26,000 votes in Florida, far more than needed to carry the state easily.”
— In the presidential election of 2016, Hillary Clinton lost Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to Donald Trump by fewer votes than Jill Stein claimed in each state.
While less definitive than 2000 in Florida, one can still argue that if Stein hadn’t been on the ballot Donald Trump would never have become president and America would have been spared the trauma and 500,000 unnecessary Covid deaths that accompanied his ascension to that office.
The simple reality is that in our political system — winner-take-all elections, rather than a parliamentary system or ranked-choice-voting — a third-party candidate always hurts the party it’s most closely aligned with.
Wallace was a Democrat, and Nader and Stein were Greens, so they hurt the Democratic nominee. Biden is currently the “moderate” candidate in a Biden-Trump or Biden-DeSantis match-up, so a “moderate” third-party candidate would throw the election to Trump or DeSantis.
Now it looks like a massive dark money group is planning to bring America a repeat of those three elections where a third-party candidate put a Republican in the White House.
Dark money-funded No Labels has invested a reported $70 million to get ballot access in all 50 states, in anticipation of a 2024 race where they’d sponsor a “centrist” (aka “bought off”) candidate to run for president. And Democrats around the country are worried.
No Labels already wields considerable financial and political power through the corporate Problem Solvers Caucus they claim to have “inspired” into existence.
The Corporate Problem Solvers appears to many as a bipartisan group of “for sale to the highest bidder” House and Senate members, following the example of No Labels itself, which takes millions from morbidly rich and corporate donors and then refuses to tell anybody who they are, how much they put in, and what they expect to get for it.
As Sam Stein and Lachlan Markay wrote for The Daily Beast:
“The group, which was founded as a champion of political bipartisanship, has been quietly courting donations from some of the most notoriously partisan money men and women in politics.”
And now they’re preparing a $70 million war chest to field a third-party presidential candidate for 2024, if all the buzz in the press is accurate. In Arizona, for example, the Democratic Party of that state is suing to try to prevent them from getting certification on the ballot.
While both the Democratic and Republican parties are obligated to report much of their income to the public, there’s no such requirement for No Labels, which is fully exploiting the IRS code and an opening given them by five Republicans on the Supreme Court.
Back in 2010, when Republicans on the Court fully legalized the bribery of public officials by corporations and the morbidly rich in their Citizens United decision, it became clear that if the decision wasn’t overturned by Congress elections would become auctions. Whichever candidate had the support of the deepest pockets would win the race.
Speaking with me after Republicans on the Court handed down their corrupt 2010 Citizens United decision, expanding their 1976 initial legalization of political bribery, former President Jimmy Carter said:
“It [Citizens United] violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. … So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.”
While this is a factor in Democratic Party, it’s corrosive and corrupting effect is largest on the right. A small number of rightwing billionaires today run the Republican Party, and, according to a new study, 27 of them basically own the GOP.
In 1776 we declared independence from the world’s richest man and the planet’s largest corporation, which his family started (Queen Elizabeth I chartered the East India Company in December, 1601) and in which he owned the largest percentage of shares.
Today, we’re confronting a similar challenge. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in 1936 of the last time wealth and political power was as seriously concentrated as it is today:
“It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man.”
And here we are. Americans for Tax Fairness recently published a shocking report that opens with this statement about the people who fund these kinds of dark money political operations:
“The nation’s roughly 750 billionaires are increasingly using their personal fortunes and the profits of connected corporations to drown out regular voters’ voices and elect hand-picked candidates who further rig the nation’s economy—especially the tax system—to make their wealthy benefactors even richer. This anti-democratic vote-buying, totaling $1.2 billion in the 2020 election cycle, has expanded greatly in recent years.”
The rate at which billionaires are pouring money into elections has taken a sharp upward turn, they note, since Trump’s election just six years after Citizens United:
“Billionaires pumped $1.2 billion into the 2020 elections, almost 40 times more than the $31 million they donated in 2010, when the Citizens United rules were first in effect. In the 2020 election cycle, billionaires contributed nearly $1 out of every $10, while making up just 0.01% of all donors contributing more than $200.”
Almost half of all the money donated to the two main super PACs supporting the GOP came from just 27 rightwing billionaires.
Investing in politicians and ballot initiatives, since the practice was legalized by corrupt Republicans on the Supreme Court, turns out to be the very most profitable investment a billionaire can make.
For example, in 2020 Democrats in Illinois put up a ballot measure called the “Fair Tax” that cut state income taxes for people earning under $100,000 a year while it raised state income taxes on those making over $1 million from 4.95% to 7.99%.
The ballot measure’s main supporter — Governor (and progressive billionaire) JB Pritzker — hoped the measure would raise around $3 billion in tax revenue to help the state close a budget hole.
But then-Illinois resident and rightwing billionaire Ken Griffin (one of Ron DeSantis’ largest donors) spent $54 million of his own money to defeat the measure.
His campaign to carpet-bomb the state with a message to the effect of “Democrats can’t be trusted; they just want to raise your taxes” worked and the measure was defeated.
The proposed billionaire tax would have cost Griffin $51 million just in that one year of 2020 and, as ProPublica noted:
“In especially good years — in 2018, Griffin reported income of almost $2.9 billion — he might have been forced to pay more than $80 million more.”
In other words, it wasn’t an expenditure for Griffin: it was a low-cost investment. Imagine how much more profitable billionaire “contributions” would be with a fully-bought-off GOP in charge of the White House because of a third-party candidacy.
Which explains why No Labels and the Corporate Problem Solvers became inevitable once Republicans on the Court fully decriminalized political bribery.
There will never be a shortage of people willing to take bribes if it’s legal and there’s no legal or political downside risk. Far rarer are politicians like Progressive Caucus members, who take no PAC money.
America’s last best chance to do something about money in politics blew up when Corporate Problem Solver caucus members Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin joined every bought-off Republican in the Senate to block passage of the For The People Act last year.
No Labels and the Corporate Problem Solvers are now playing with political fire, flirting with fielding a “moderate” (i.e. bought-off) candidate for president next year.
But that doesn’t seem to trouble them at all, just so long as the dark money keeps rolling in.