Money In Politics: The Root Of All Evil

We are in what I often think of as the Patriotic days of summer. From Flag Day on June 14th, when the flag was adopted by the Continental Congress through Juneteenth when all the slaves finally learned they were free to the Big One – July 4th. As a youth in the long foggy past I would read books of the heroism and ingenuity of our Founders and believe that I, too, was as brave, heroic and smart as they were.

But the times and the heroes I once dreamed of turned out to have some real humanity behind them. As I grew older I learned that the marriage of North and South in this country was on very shaky grounds from day one. That shakiness was caused by the South’s “peculiar institution” as slavery was euphemised by the South.

Any basic reading of the constitution can’t help but note the huge gap between the high ideals of the document and the practices within the country. As I grew older I also became aware that this huge discrepancy between ideals and reality was allowed to fester and fester until it popped like a boil into a long, contracted and extremely bloody war. 

The reason it was allowed to fester so long was that to end this “peculiar institution” was going to cost some very rich folks a lot of money. That included several among our founding fathers, such as Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. Even though the ideals they fought for were in opposition to slavery these leaders still kept their slaves.

The “peculiar institution” serves as a good case study of the corrupting power of money on our leaders and politicians. When even such high minded folks as the founding fathers have personal conflicts between their ideals and their personal interests we can see how influential money can be.

From the ideals of boyhood to the realities of life, I slowly learned how one person or a few people with money can shape the government and the society to what they want over what the vast majority of the country want. Jefferson warned of the influence of money in 1785: 

Mankind soon learn to make interested uses of every right and power which they possess, or may assume. The public money and public liberty, intended to have been deposited with three branches of magistracy, but found inadvertently to be in the hands of one only, will soon be discovered to be sources of wealth and dominion to those who hold them… They [the assembly] should look forward to a time, and that not a distant one, when a corruption in this, as in the country from which we derive our origin, will have seized the heads of government, and be spread by them through the body of the people; when they will purchase the voices of the people, and make them pay the price. Human nature is the same on every side of the Atlantic, and will be alike influenced by the same causes. The time to guard against corruption and tyranny, is before they shall have gotten hold of us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold, than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered.  

Money, especially in the form of corporate money really reared its ugly head in the 1896 William McKinley / William Jennings Bryan contest. Writing in August of 2009, as the horrendous Citizens United v. FEC was taken up by the Supreme Court, Adam Cohen of the NYT reminded us of this history:   

The origins of the ban lie in the 1896 presidential race, which pitted the Republican William McKinley against William Jennings Bryan, the farm-belt populist. Bryan was a peerless orator, but McKinley had Mark Hanna — the premier political operative of his day — extracting so-called assessments from the nation’s biggest corporations and funneling them into a vast marketing campaign.

McKinley, who outspent Bryan by an estimated 10 to 1, won handily, proving Hanna’s famous dictum: “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”

The rich and corporate ‘citizens’ never gave up their quest to use their vast wealth to buy politicians and have extreme influence over how the country was run. After the horrendous Citizens United decision where the Supreme Court created policy out of thin air for the corporations and the wealthy, we have seen for 12 years what such influence can bring.

One fine example of such “investments” by corporations has to be the gun manufacturers through their gun lobby (including the NRA) in shall we say euphemistically “influencing” Iowa’s two senators Grassley and Ernst to vote as they are told by the gun lobby. Two senators more loyal to the gun lobby are hard to find.

Grassley has also been well bought by the health insurance industry. He was a one man wrecking ball against Obamacare and he continues to carry all sorts of water for the insurance industry. 

Remember when you vote this year that Chuck Grassley could easily be the poster boy for corruption. His opponent, Retired Admiral Mike Franken publicly disavowed  super PAC and corporate money during the primary. I think you can rest assured he will not be taking money from the gun industry in his contest against Grassley.

Think about that when you hear of the next mass shooting and the next, and the next. Mike Franken says NO to guns!

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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