Arkansas is apt to pass a big milestone this year, its first election bought by national economic interests. We have been in the backwaters of this great movement for a dozen years but no longer.
It remains to be seen who will be the next United States senator but the race has already been shaped irrevocably by forces outside the state whose spending to influence the election has dwarfed even the ample campaign treasuries of the candidates.
A shadow group called Americans for Job Security, a postal-box front for corporate interests that has been spending millions every two years to elect Republicans to the U. S. Senate and House of Representatives, has invested more than a million dollars in the last 10 days of the Democratic primary to ravage the reputation of Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, the chief challenger to Sen. Blanche Lincoln. Its work is supplemented by ad campaigns directed by another front group that keeps its identity secret, Arkansans for Common Sense, and by the U. S. Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber's riches now are trying to pump up Senator Lincoln for the primary, but its aims are almost altogether the election of Republicans to the Senate. Lincoln's support from the U. S. Chamber will vanish once she wins the nomination although she has been a reliable friend of the chamber and its conglomerate corporate interests until the past several months when she voted for health-care reform and introduced a bill regulat-ing bank trading of mortgage derivatives, which is apt to be junked by the Senate after the primary if not before.
Lincoln has by no means been immune to the savagery of outside money. She is where she is today, looking almost unelectable, only partly because she dithered on virtually every big issue in the final two years before the election. The insurance and pharmaceutical industries, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce and industry surrogates bought millions of dollars of air time and newspaper space to hammer Democrats who were sup-porting or might support health-care reform, an energy and climate bill or legislation giving workers a better chance to have a union bargain for them. Lincoln and Rep. Vic Snyder were often named and the ads carried snapshots of them with half-lidded eyes, which somehow are always found for attack commercials.
“Tell Blanche Lincoln to stop representing . . .,” they would say.
In 10 months her approval-disapproval ratings reversed, and the poll numbers kept getting worse.
With an unexpected challenge in her own party she resorted in kind. Victimized by lies and distortions about what she had done, she opened the same line of attack against Halter. He was out to gut Social Security and send American jobs to India.
Seeing the chance to eliminate a fresh-faced candidate who might be harder to beat than Lincoln, surrogate Republican groups like Americans for Job Security picked up the thread. It has worked, too. Halter's negatives, very low three months ago, are approaching Lincoln's.
Halter's ads and those of the national groups that are abetting him, by the way, are barely more honest than Lincoln's. He says no, but had he been in the U. S. Senate he would almost certainly have voted for the trade agreements and the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that he criticizes.
What Lincoln and Halter have done, with the giant-sized help of shadow groups and the chamber of commerce, is to make the other unelectable in the fall. What a service to their party.
It should not be mistaken that Senator Lincoln is no more than the momentary beneficiary of the barrage against Halter by Americans for Job Security and the others. That group has no record of electing Democrats of any persuasion. A former Republican White House political director runs it, which is about all that is known of the individuals who are involved.
Since its formation in the latter years of the Clinton presidency it has invested millions in every election cycle to defeat Democratic senators and congressmen and, once or twice, to bludgeon a moderate Republican who had strayed from the fold of the now disgraced Majority Leader Tom Delay.
It was organized as a tax-exempt 501(c)(6) group like the chamber of commerce. It is supposed to work for the interest of business generally and political activity cannot be its primary interest, although if it has any other purpose than influencing elections it has never come to light. The group has refused to name its members or identify where its millions come from, but the property and casualty insurance industry dropped in $1 million to affect an election or two in 2000. It is a conduit for any corporate interest that wants to beat a Democrat or elect a conservative Republi-can and needs cover.
The U. S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision last winter made such front groups unnecessary because it said corporations could use money straight out of their general treasuries, in unlimited amounts, to influence elections, but they may still find the cover of groups like Ameri-cans for Job Security useful. They mask the real goals of the money.
Americans for Job Security sounds like a union group, one interested in the welfare and rights of workers, and its ads usually sound like that. It attacks Halter for moving jobs overseas and for wanting to privatize Social Security.
Actually, Halter hasn't moved any jobs overseas and he is a fierce opponent of privatizing Social Security and the people exploiting Americans for Job Security are actually for both. Its seed money came from the American Insurance Association, a trade group of insurers that outsourced jobs. The chamber of commerce, which has used the group, has touted the advantages of offshoring jobs.
But the Supreme Court decreed that this is the future of elections even in Arkansas and we must get used to it. You can hope that voters will wise up to charades like Americans for Job Security, but there is no evidence of it.