CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new book, Dollarocracy, outlines how U.S. billionaires and huge corporations funnel money to right-wing politicians, who win government posts and grant favors to the bankrollers.
The cash avalanche swelled after the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court case, in which conservative justices declared that campaign money is "free speech" which cannot be limited -- and that corporations are "persons" allowed to "speak" all they wish. This let the wealthy buy elections anonymously through front committees.
One example in the book is the "absurd" campaign of Patrick Morrisey for West Virginia attorney general. It says he was a Washington lobbyist for billion-dollar medical interests and far-right causes. He fought especially against universal health insurance for low-income families. Morrisey was an outside stranger who didn't even have a license to practice law in the Mountain State until four days before he filed his candidacy.
"Morrisey's candidacy would have been absurd by traditional measures of credible candidates in West Virginia," the book says. "But he had an advantage: virtually unlimited -- and unaccountable -- outside money. More money from outside the state poured into Morrisey's race for attorney general than into races for governor or potentially competitive congressional seats."
The book -- written by John Nichols, The Nation magazine's Washington correspondent, and Dr. Robert McChesney, a University of Illinois professor -- recounts how two conservative front committees paid more than $2 million for smear TV ads that helped Morrisey oust longtime Attorney General Darrell McGraw. The book says the "essential purpose" of these committees is to move great amounts of cash into states to back Republican politicians.
Since front committees conceal their money sources, it's impossible to guess how much pharmaceutical firms bankrolled Morrisey's campaign. Previously, some drug-makers were identified among his donors.
Now Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, House health chairman, wants Morrisey to investigate pharmaceutical manufacturers whose cold remedies are used in multitudes of illicit "meth labs" serving West Virginia addicts. National reports estimate that as much as 80 percent of pseudoephedrine sold in drugstores winds up as meth for addicts.
Last year, 288 meth labs were found by police around the state -- but this year's number already has passed 300. Perdue called it a disastrous upsurge hurting West Virginians.
So far, Morrisey won't say whether he will inquire into cold remedy sales. When he makes a response, it may reveal whether he is beholden to drug manufacturers. (One thing is sure: Former Attorney General McGraw would have tackled this request immediately.)
Last year, legislators rejected a proposal to curtail meth labs by requiring doctor prescriptions for pseudoephedrine pills. Instead, they passed a sales tracking system that does little. Another possible cure would be to require the medicine to be sold in gel form, which can't be converted into a narcotic.
We hope Morrisey shows that he isn't a puppet of pharmaceutical firms -- and we hope the Legislature finally takes strong action against the meth menace.