Everyone can afford to buy advertising space on billboards in order to spread his or her political views, right?
Everyone can buy political influence, right?
That’s exactly the situation that permitted Texas-based conservative advocacy group, the Job Creators Network (JCN), to partner with CEOs of Home Depot, Pepsi, and Kraft to fund a billboard in New York City’s Times Square attacking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“AOC”) over her opposition to Amazon’s plan to construct a second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens.
Behind the JCN is none other than Robert, Rebekah, and Diana Mercer, wealthy Upper West-side Manhattan Republicans who spent millions on Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) failed presidential campaign and continue pouring obscene amounts of money into GOP candidates and causes.
Unlike the Koch brothers, who are known primarily for their monetary investments in politicians, the Mercers are more technologically savvy.
They have used their connections to former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon to construct an alternative media milieu to promote the “danger of immigrants flooding to our shores,” and the “swamp” Trump claimed to want to drain.
They poured money into Breitbart News, becoming part owners under Bannon’s tutelage, and being therefore complicit in the nationalistic platform that helped propel Trump to the White House.
They also helped finance the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), an investigative think tank Steve Bannon co-founded.
GAI president, Peter Schweizer, authored the book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, which the Mercers’ film production company, Glittering Steel, translated to film, portraying former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as captive to wealthy interests, a charge that dogged her 2016 presidential campaign.
Glittering Steel has produced films for the Mercer-funded super PAC “Make America Number 1,” which, according to campaign finance filings, paid the production company about $700,000.
But they didn’t stop there. The Mercers invested in Cambridge Analytica, a data science company working for the Trump campaign.
This is entirely legal thanks to three seminal Supreme Court decisions.
In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Buckley v. Valeo that political campaign spending limits are unconstitutional.
Then came the controversial Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) decision in 2010, which cited the First Amendment to equate money with free speech.
In 2014, the McCutcheon v. FEC case further solidified this by determining unconstitutional any limits on individual contributions to federal candidate committees and national parties over a two-year period.
It is this broken campaign finance system that makes it perfectly legal for the Mercers to bankroll the Job Creators Network in its ostentatious attack on Rep. Ocasio-Cortez despite the public grassroots pressure responsible for Amazon’s reconsidering its decision to locate to New York.
Responding to JCN, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez tweeted:
“Few things effectively communicate the power we’ve built in fighting dark money & anti-worker policies like billionaire-funded groups blowing tons of cash on wack billboards (this one is funded by the Mercers).
“(PS fact that it’s in Times Sq tells you this isn’t for/by NYers.)”
Responding to the tweet, JCN erected two more billboards mocking AOC:
“Hey AOC, saw your wack tweet.”
“Hey AOC, this billboard cost about $4,000. But you cost NY 25,000 jobs and $4,000,000,000 in annual lost wages. Ouch!”
AOC then replied:
“Do you think the Mercers will eventually fund 8 JCN billboards, one for each of the 8 Bermuda offshore tax avoidance vehicles they’ve been linked to in the Paradise Papers?”
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, being a congressional representative, is the obvious target.
Yet, she has claimed her role has been overstated.
“Grassroots community members led + organized the whole effort. Wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t there.”
The billboard is symbolic of the grotesque level to which dark money in politics has dragged down our political system.
Hiding behind the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, the wealthy and corporations claim their unlimited political spending equates to “free speech.”
But most Americans do not have the opportunity or resources to take out their own billboard ads to get their representatives’ attention.
This is why we need a constitutional amendment making it clear money is not speech and corporations are not people.
This is what AOC is standing up to protect.
Image credit: Twitter via Mother Jones