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Swift Boat Networks Writ Large: Don’t say you weren’t warned

(cue sarcasm) I’d first like to thank the Politico for sitting on this post until the morning after, because after all, voters weren’t voting yesterday with any eye to campaign finance reform.

It’s no surprise to discover that the Swift Boat Networks of the 2010 election were moving fast and furious along all lanes of our information highways. From radio to television to social media, they were activated, coordinated, and on the move. This is an infrastructure that has been forming for years, and the Citizens United decision finally locked the last piece in place. But even if it hadn’t, the FEC had already given full approval to their operations.

Here’s what they did:

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which could not legally coordinate with the outside groups, even took the extraordinary step of publicly revealing its own ad buy strategy

This knowledge allowed the groups to go where the party committee didn’t have the resources to attack. That way, the outsiders could “see where the holes are and figure out who is filling what holes,” Bill Miller, the Chamber’s political director, told POLITICO. 

Step one: Allocate resources strategically, using gestures which aren’t obvious, but appear transparent.

The meetings between the 30 or so GOP groups eventually came to be known as the “Weaver Terrace” sessions – named after the street where Bush adviser Karl Rove lived earlier this year, and where he hosted the first meeting to discuss the joint strategy.

As the campaign heated up, informal telephone calls supplemented the regular gatherings hosted at the headquarters of American Crossroads, a group founded with Rove’s guidance, said Carl Forti, the group’s political director. “There were definitely instances where folks would say, ‘I’m going up in the Pennsylvania race this week,’ and another would say, ‘OK, we’ll go in the next week,’ ” said Forti.

Carl Forti is, of course, the principal of the Black Rock group, and hub for all of the people funding attacks on Democrats across the nation. 

The result?

In total, Republican-leaning outside groups spent $187 million this cycle compared to just $90 million by Democratic groups, a two-to-one GOP advantage aimed at spreading the House map and putting Senate Democrats on the ropes. 

That 2 to 1 advantage bought them the House majority and handed the Speaker’s podium to John Boehner, arguably one of the most corrupt politicians this country has ever seen, a handful of governorships and seven state legislatures poised to gerrymander districts to maximize Republican gains in the Congress for the next ten years. It bought them the Florida governor’s mansion, where a man in charge of a company that defrauded the United States government will now be in charge of implementing the Affordable Care Act in that state.

The Sunlight Foundation understands how serious this is. In their post, they argue that $200 million was laundered through outside organizations. I submit that it was far more than $200 million when transactions like the $3 million dollars laundered through Michigan’s Republican Governor’s Association and the $5 million laundered through the Michigan Chamber of Commerce are included. And here’s the thing: The candidates who spent their own money to get elected like Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina actually lost because they spent their own money. Clearly voters are repelled by the idea of elections being bought, or at least, being bought outright. It seems they’re not as bothered when they’re bought with money that can’t be identified.

All the post-mortems on this midterm election will center around how voters view Obama, or health care reform, or Wall Street regulations, or repealing DADT. All of those played a role, yes. The fact remains that Carl Forti, his Swift Boat networks, and large corporate donors played a larger role than anything else. That’s the tragedy and the lesson of this election, and it’s why we must push for transparency in campaign finance, or better yet, publicly-funded elections.

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