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Waiting for Obama

Mayhem erupted in our neighbourhood when President Barack Obama came to smooch with New York’s rich and famous earlier this month. An army of steel barricades were erected to stop jaywalkers crossing 61st Street, a swarm of police vehicles descended a little further down on the east freeway exit, and purposeful NYPD officers sporting black sunnies proceeded to upset the traffic flow. I do enjoy our 40th floor bird’s-eye view.

Plans to get the kids into bed early were scuppered by the husband insisting we join the steadily growing number of curious bystanders awaiting Obama’s “imminent” arrival. That was at 7pm. For the next two hours helicopters circled the tops of nearby skyscrapers, and a police patrol speedboat traced a demonic north-south path on the East River. Despite the fuss, the only cavalcade in sight were my pyjama-wearing scamps whizzing around the now dark driveway on scooters loudly shouting “Obama’s here” with accompanying siren sounds, much to the annoyance of the nicely behaved French family beside us.

Did Sarah Jessica Parker’s Magnolia Bakery cupcakes entice Obama to stay longer? Or was the Devil-Wears-Prada Anna Wintour giving the First Lady tips on what to wear (not that she needs it)? Either way, those $40,000 ticket holders to their private fundraising reception at SJP’s brownstone in the uber-chic West Village were certainly getting value for their bucks. “Checks and the City!” ran a headline in Fox News last Thursday.

Presidential elections in the US involve big money, and guaranteed entertainment. The 2012 election promises to take this all-American tradition to its extreme, with pundits already billing it the most expensive race in electoral history. Freakish statistics are churned out daily; it’s very hard to know what to believe. Recent reports in The New York Times suggest Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney have collectively raised more than $1.2billion over the past year. While US research agency Borrell Associates Inc. projects campaign spending will top an obscene $10billion.

No shoulder is left untapped when it comes to securing donations: from Wall Street’s coffers to private donations from the best that Hollywood and Broadway have to offer. And while Obama’s been hobnobbing with likes of Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney—his fundraising dinner raised a cool $15million—there’s another superstar stealing the limelight for their famed greenback pulling powers: ‘Super PACs’.

Super PACs came crashing onto the electoral scene a couple of years ago.Their predecessor, the humble PACs or Political Action Committees created in the 1940s, allowed wealthy individuals to finance efforts to elect or defeat political candidates through donations capped at $5000. But an absurd US Supreme Court decision catapulted PACs into a whole new arena, in which they deservedly earned the name ‘Super PACs’.

Under the 2010 Citizen’s United ruling, corporations, in addition to individuals, are able to make unlimited donations to finance Super PACs that can hugely influence the presidential race. Obama has heavily criticised this ruling, founded on a corporations’ alleged right to exercise free speech (as per the First Amendment of the US Constitution), describing it a “mistake” serving to threaten “the health of our democracy”. And contrary to a puzzling statement in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion that these corporate expenditures “did not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption”, the very opposite conclusion is hard to dismiss…

The President’s disapproval hasn’t deterred Obama-friendly Super PACs from raising $260million, shadowing Mitt Romney’s $122million, totals reported as at the end of May by the Centre for Responsive Politics. Although recent press reports indicate Republican Super PACs and other right wing interests—including brothers, David and Charles Koch, among the richest men in America—intend to throw more than $1billion behind a Super-PAC in the run up to the November 6 election, no doubt to focus on some good old-fashioned negative advertising.

A recent US Gallup poll shows Obama and Romney currently running neck to neck; either way, one candidate will be ‘bought’ into office in the next four months.

Obama’s cavalcade finally made it; quite anti-climatical given his black limousine was near impossible to spot among the staff SUVs, police motorbikes, NYPD cars, and both a tow and fire department truck. He cut it fine for his 955pm fundraising speech at the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue, sealed with a performance from Mariah Carey.

As I was closing windows just before midnight, I caught sight of an ant-like flow of police cars and limos with enough flashing multicoloured lights to give Times Square a run for its money. A slavish shepherding of Obama to his next stop; we gave up counting the passing vehicles after we reached 50. “Overkill” my hubby said. An apt description, and one that could equally apply to America’s election financing debacle.

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