Without getting too philosophical, when someone reflects these days on the state of the union and the state of politics, money – its pursuit, its use, its impact – is right up there with power as a golden ring that a whole lot of people spend their days obsessing about. It probably has always been so, but in the 21st century the obsession seems overwhelming.
Consider the manner in which candidates, political parties and the thousands of independent committees operate. It’s true on all levels of government, but it is most true on the federal level. Members of Congress these days spend hours on-end sitting in cubicles at their respective party headquarters dialing for dollars. They raise tens of millions of dollars each year doing that.
And for what? So that they can get re-elected and do it again next year. And so that they can build up surplus funds not needed for the own campaigns which can be used to extend their influence with other politicians.
A fairly recent development is raising massive dollar amounts via small donations from a very large number of donors. Barack Obama did very well with that technique, as did Bernie Sanders. But they are mostly the exception to the rule.
Some people donate to a candidate or a party because they support a cause, or they are related to or have some personal connection to the candidate. But mostly, four and five figure donations come with the expectations that the donor can influence some action that the candidate, if elected, can make happen.
That is how we wind up with a convoluted federal tax code that caters to special interests. That is how we wind up with government regulations that allow companies to cut corners to save a buck and add to their dividends, regardless of the effect on everyday citizens – the ones who don’t write big checks to politicians.
It seems likely that over the course of the next few months we are going to see how really big piles of money have driven people to selling out our democracy. The Trumpkins have been playing in all sorts of shady ways to make themselves rich while selling the country down the river.
Cases in point:
- Michael Flynn was getting rich, being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Russians, Turks, Arabs, and who knows who else to wheel and deal on their behalf, even while he wormed his ways into the upper echelons of the Trump campaign and the Trump administration. Reality now seems to be slapping him in the face as he begs for immunity and for contributions to a one million dollar legal defense fund. Lock him up?
- Paul Manafort’s operations parallel Flynn’s. The stories about foreign money and multiple million dollar real estate deals subsequently mortgaged sure sound like a class in money laundering and tax evasion 101. Like Flynn, Manafort graciously “volunteered” for the campaign and was made campaign manager, even though he had limited big league political experience. But he had influence to gain and to use.
- Jared Kushner, crown prince of the Trump empire, seems to be using his campaign and administration involvement to try to bail himself out of bad real estate deals where he stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars, or maybe like his father-in-law, to go bankrupt. He has sought tons of money from the Chinese, Russians, Arabs and very rich Israelis. His sister tried trading on Jared’s walk-into-the-Oval-Office connections to sell green cards to Chinese who have money to invest in New Jersey. Was Jared’s proposal for a clandestine communication connection at a Russian diplomatic location in the United States designed to work a deal for himself?
- And also on Jared, he managed the campaign’s involvement in Cambridge Analytica, which did targeting work for the Trump effort. He and/or his friends were making money on the deal, but what were they doing with the data? Maybe helping Russian bot farms select areas to target with their phony fake-American Facebook efforts.
- While Facebook would not be considered a part of Trumpworld, the social media empire appears to have helped the Russians play a significant role in the campaign through ads. Facebook for months denied having any involvement in the Russian intrigue but now the truth is coming out. Might not Facebook have thought that something fishy was going on when they were, in some cases, paid in Russian rubles? But no matter, apparently, Mark Zuckerberg and company love to make money wherever it comes from, and evidently for whatever purposes it is used for.
Then, of course, there is the Godfather, the Don if you will, of the Trump organization, Donald J. Trump. If he ever read the Constitution he might have noticed the Emolument Clause, which prohibits federal officials from accepting income from foreigners. That section of the Constitution is being regularly violated at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, and any number of Trump properties throughout the United States and throughout the world as foreign emissaries rush to show their fealty to Trump.
And in a mark of how campaign fundraising’s is reaching into the budding Russian scandal, it was disclosed yesterday that funds from the Trump 2020 political committee as well as funds collected by the Republican National Committee are being used to pay for the legal defense of Trump and his son, Donald Jr.
I don’t mean to just pick on political money and the Trumpkins. Well, okay, I do mean to do that. But the corrupting influence of money in politics is evident in states and localities as well.
I don’t need to go into the specifics, but it is evident even to casual observers that New York State government has had multiple instances where political money wound up destroying political careers. There have been local examples of such activity as well.
While efforts are made from time-to-time to reduce the influence of money in politics, court cases like Citizens United and various regulatory efforts have done much to mitigate and destroy controls over such things. In New York State, legislation that would reduce or end the use of multiple limited liability corporations to skirt the election law has been bottled up in the State Senate. We’re looking here at you, Senator Michael Ranzenhofer, the chair of the Senate Committee that handles such matters.
The post-primary election blog post last week highlighted the incredibly shrinking voter turnout numbers. G-O-T-V used to stand for “get out the vote.” Now it more appropriately means “got ours, thanks voters,” as politicians reap the benefits of the lost interest of voters.
Fewer voters doesn’t seem to translate into fewer campaign dollars. From town council and legislative races, to countywide, statewide and national campaigns, the money raised and spent continues to be crazy. For small “d” democracy this is a very sad development.