Something To Do This Year

Salon.com published one of those New Year pieces that attempts to look ahead with hope in the heart. This one was titled,

New Year’s resolutions for the left: What liberals can win in 2014

Hmm. I suppose, given what is going on in Congress and what is going on around the country in the various right-wing controlled states, that it is a small victory to even imagine that liberals can “win” anything this year. But perhaps the various contributors to the piece, liberal activists all, are right that some important things can be achieved, even though I have serious doubts. However, what you won’t find on the list of things “liberals can win in 2014” is perhaps the most crucial of them all, in terms of saving the very idea of American democracy: getting big, bad, and increasingly dark money out of politics.

It was bad enough when rich folks and corporate interests could openly court our legislators and throw money at their campaigns in order to secure the blessings of legislation or the blessings of writing regulations that stem from legislation. Now, dark money, that money that rich people and corporations can put into political activity anonymously—thanks to a conservative-controlled Supreme Court—allows these moneyed interests to control our politics—sometimes both sides of our politics, I hate to say—without us voting peons knowing exactly who is pulling the political and public relations strings.

Let me share with you a recent AP article on what Texas Republicans are worried about. The piece begins:

The deaths this year of three major Texas Republican donors, including a billionaire who died over the weekend, could signal a generational change for party kingmakers in the nation’s largest GOP stronghold.

Now, just why God chose to call home these wealthy right-wingers in 2013 I will leave to your imagination, but while they were still breathing the three managed to help transform Texas:

All three men were considered conservative renegades when they got involved in politics. However, as the state grew more conservative, they became part of the GOP mainstream.

You see? In a state like Texas—where, just like here in Missouri, there are no limits to how much dough you can stuff into the pockets of politicians—if you have enough money you can make the stream of politics bend to your will.

One of those Texas billionaire gave $31 million—think about how much money that is—to conservative groups in just a two-year cycle (2011-2012). Another gave “at least $75 million in political contributions in his lifetime.” And that doesn’t count the Supreme Court-blessed dark money he was able to give without his name publicly attached.

Ominously, the AP writer, speaking of the dark money aspect of today’s environment, wrote:

The full extent of their donations may never be known, since many were made privately.

“Privately.” Their donations were made privately. Their donations to public campaigns, to public policy initiatives, were made privately, so that the public would not be in a position to judge whether the public relations campaigns on TV and radio, and whether the politicians they elected, were serving the public interests or the interests of a private political donor or donors who had a lot to gain.

It’s shameful. And it is sad that many liberals don’t even dream of changing things, although some still are gallantly trying.

To end this beginning-of-the-year downer, I will leave you with a peek into the world of my congressman, Ozark Billy Long. I checked on the Federal Election Commission’s site to see how Billy was spending his donors’ dough this year. Remarkably, the man who has struggled with his weight has spent a lot of money on meals and fancy hotels and, well, don’t tell anybody, but some of those expenditures happily coincide with Billy’s fondness for the poker tables.

In April of 2013 he jetted out to Vegas and spent about $1500 bucks (from his campaign war chest) for accommodations at the Venetian (a big poker tourney was going on at the time). Earlier in the year he flew down to Florida (paid for by the campaign donors) and spent almost $2400 of campaign cash at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples. You ever been to a Ritz-Carlton? I know, I know, me neither. Here’s what the one Billy stayed at looks like:

ritz carlton in naplesJust in case some of you cold southwest Missourians think that anyone who can afford it ought to be able to pass time on a pristine beach in the middle of winter in Naples, Florida, I will agree with you. I just don’t think politicians ought to be able to do it on money given to them by donors, that’s all. If Ozark Billy wants to belly-up to a beach-side bar in paradise, he ought to have to spend his own money.

Oh, have you ever been to The New York Palace in Manhattan? Didn’t think so. But Ozark Billy has. He spent $1329 there in June of last year, all of it from campaign funds. If you ever decide to run for Congress and win, here’s what you can look forward to your donors paying for:

They don’t call it The New York Palace for nothing. Man, what a place. And paid for by anyone who has ever given Billy Long a dollar, or a thousand, or ten thousand. Mind you, campaign expenditures aren’t secrets, even if the sources of the money given to political activities are fast becoming very secretive. In fact, Randy Turner, writing for Daily Kos, has done a good job of documenting Ozark Billy’s use of campaign funds, especially the fact that the hungry congressman has spent a lot of campaign dough on meals, while voting to pass a farm bill without funding for the food stamp program.

In any case, my particular favorite Billy Long meal expense was a couple of meals at a Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Manhattan in August of 2013. These two “campaign event” meals cost more than $2000. That’s a lot of Ruth’s Chris. But here’s the way I like to think of it in order to make myself feel better. A local family of wealthy Republicans, the Humphreys (who are well-known nationally as big-time donors), have given thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to Ozark Billy. In fact, David Humphreys gave Long $2500 in March of 2013. It sort of makes me feel good to imagine that most of that money was spent at a steak house in New York City feeding the fed-up congressman and his entourage, or possibly all of it was spent at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples. You know what I mean?

But I wonder how it makes David Humphreys feel? Oh, then again I suppose it doesn’t really matter. When you have big money to toss around, it probably doesn’t worry you all that much that some of it ends up at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Manhattan or at the Venetian in Vegas or at The New York Palace or at a resort complex overlooking a beautiful beach in Florida. It’s just the price of doing business.

However, if you want to help change this sick and sickening system, there are ways to do it. Go here or here or here or here or here. Go somewhere and do something before more damage is done. It is, after all, a new year.

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2 Comments

  1. “Dark Money”. Excellent. It encapsulates the concept ever so well. Only January 3 and already a marvelous nominee for Phrase of the Year!

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  2. Jim,

    It continues to amaze me that people just don’t seem to be interested in this issue, what I consider the most important issue in politics. I don’t know whether it is the fact that the climb to fix it seems to be so steep, or that people don’t really know how profoundly money affects public policy. Whatever the reason, such apathy, such indifference, is why there is absolutely no pressure on politicians to do anything about it.

    Sad.

    Duane

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