JP Morgan, BP, Walmart, and the multibillionaire Koch brothers have just launched a TV advertisement blasting President Obama for the national debt.
Actually, I don't know who's behind the ad because there's no way to know. And that's a big problem.
The front group for the ad is Crossroads GPS, the sister organization to the super PAC American Crossroads run by Republican political operative Karl Rove. But because Crossroads GPS is a nonprofit, tax-exempt "social welfare organization," it can spend unlimited money and doesn't have to reveal its sources.
In reality it's a political front group, and the ad is blatantly partisan. The narrator in the ad says President Obama is "adding $4 billion in debt every day, borrowing from China for his spending. Every second, growing our debt faster than our economy," and concludes, "Tell Obama, stop the spending."
To make matters worse, it's a bald-faced lie.
Mr. Obama isn't adding to the debt every day. Contributing to the debt are policies ofGeorge W. Bush, including two giant tax cuts that went mostly to the very wealthy. The tax cuts were supposed to be temporary, but they're still going, courtesy of Republican blackmail over raising the debt limit.
As I said, I don't know who's financing this big lie, but there's good reason to think it's some big corporations and billionaires like the Koch brothers.
According to the reliable inside-Washington source "Politico," the Koch brothers' network alone will be spending $400 million over the next six months trying to defeat Mr. Obama, which is more than Sen. John McCain spent on his entire 2008 presidential campaign.
Big corporations and Wall Street are secretly funneling big bucks into other front groups as well -- like theU.S. Chamber of Commerce-- that will use the money to air anti-Obama ads while keeping secret the identities of these firms. The chamber and other front groups argue if they revealed their names, the firms might otherwise face "retaliation" and "reprisals" from their customers. That's another way of saying they might be held accountable.
Looking at the all the anti-Obama super PACs and political fronts like Crossroads GPS, Politico estimates the anti-Obama forces (including the Romney campaign) will outspend Obama and pro-Obama groups 2 to 1.
How can it be that big corporations and billionaires will be spending unlimited amounts on big lies like the one in this ad, with no accountability because no one will know where the money is coming from?
Blame a majority of the Supreme Court in its grotesque 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision -- as well as lax enforcement by the Federal Election Commission and the IRS that lets political front groups pretend they're nonprofit "social welfare" organizations.
You might also blame something deeper, more sinister.
I'm not a conspiracy theorist (you can't have served in Washington and seriously believe that more than two people can hold on to a big story without it leaking), but I fear that at least since 2010 we've been witnessing a quiet, slow-motion coup d'etat whose purpose is to repeal every bit of progressive legislation since the New Deal and entrench the privileged positions of the wealthy and powerful -- who haven't been as wealthy or as powerful since the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.
The plan is to inundate America with a few big lies, told over and over: The debt is Obama's fault and it's out of control; corporations and the very rich are the "job creators" that must get tax cuts to generate more jobs; government spending is wasteful unless it's on the military; regulations are strangling the private sector; unionized workers are being paid too much; and so on.
Tell these big lies so often over the next six months that Americans assume they must be true. Then take over the White House, Congress and remaining states that haven't yet succumbed to the regressive right. (Look at last week's recall election in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker's supporters outspent his rival 7 to 1 with contributions from 14 billionaires, including $11 million from the Koch brothers.)
I doubt the billionaires and corporate executives behind this onslaught of advertising intend to replace our democracy with a plutocracy. They just want to have their way. But the unprecedented sums they're now pouring into politics, much of it secretly, is undermining our system of government as we once knew it.
Robert B. Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California and former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is the author of the newly released "Beyond Outrage: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix it."