Political Infuence’s Boss: The Grim Reaper

Harvey Weinstein heard his fate from a New York judge on Wednesday. Harvey is old, riddled with medical complexities, and is facing 20+ years in prison for rape and sexual assault. Without some type of pardon, Harvey will probably die behind bars.

That was not supposed to happen to Harvey. He, for decades, had significant political influence. No one on Earth contributed more money through the years to the Clintons than did Weinstein. Beginning with Bill’s first run for the White House, then for Clinton’s second term in office, Hillary’s Senate campaigns and then her two runs for president, Weinstein just handed his wallet over to the pair. But he did more than just that. When he reached his legal maximum in contributions, he began bundling for the Clintons. He is personally responsible for millions of campaign dollars for the Clintons’ various campaigns through three decades. In return, he planned to cash-in his political chits called “Influence.”

Where is Harvey’s political influence today? He’s going to die in jail.

Influence

Political influence flows through the streets of Washington, like floodwaters. It seems today that everything there is for sale. And it all has a price. Members of Congress may not sell their votes on specific issues. But when the lobbyist calls who three years ago got one’s grandson an internship that paid 15% more than it should have, that member of Congress is going to take that call — and listen. The lawmaker sold his or her political influence.

In the early 90s, I had just turned the corner with my newly formed company that had taken off after three typical years of struggling to get started. I was an active young man in our community that was well known, and (I thought) had a promising future. One day, three gentlemen walked into my office to meet with me. All three were good friends. One was a local school superintendent, one was a real estate developer, and the other was a longtime State Representative who was leaving that office to run for governor.

I was surprised but pleased to see these three. But I was shocked when I heard the reason for their visit: they wanted me to run to replace the representative in state government!

It took me a few moments to come back to Earth. I sat in silence for a moment and felt unexpected nausea rising in my throat. I didn’t understand and didn’t know then why I said what I said next, but I do know why now.

“There is NO way I will run for that office and I will NEVER run for ANY political office!”

That night I shared the experience with my wife. She looked at me with wide-eyes and asked, “Why did you say no?”

I had thought it through after the three left my office and reached a conclusion for my nausea and quick declination. I shared this with my wife: “I would always feel obligated to someone if I was a politician. And I don’t think I could ever get accustomed to that.”

I’m not a superhero or some perfect soul, by any means. But after their question and my answer sunk-in, I reasoned why I told my wife what I did: I could most definitely NOT have run a successful and winning campaign for the House of Representatives using just the money I had. There wasn’t much money available! A run for that office — ANY office — would require my asking for campaign contributions. I could not (and still cannot) envision a scenario in which I would be able to say “No” to a person who had contributed to my campaign if and when asked for a favor of any kind.

Several years later, I heard Rush Limbaugh respond on-air to a caller who asked him why he did not run for political office. His response was very similar to mine.

Don’t get me wrong: campaign contributions are necessary for today’s political system. There are certainly those who can access the political contribution system well and can then legislate with no arbitrary sense of obligations to supporters who may have contributed. I’m glad there are those public servants. I didn’t think I could do that!

There’s a multi-billion dollar industry that exists for one reason only: to use money and favors to purchase political influence from American politicians. It’s housed in law firms and marketing firms, almost all located on K Street in Washington, D.C.

Let’s take a quick look at just one race: the 2016 presidential general election race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump:

Hillary Clinton raised $866.6 Million from individuals and companies; $201.5 Million from SuperPacs = $1,068,100,000 (that’s “Billion”)

Donald Trump raised $453.1 Million from individuals and companies; $59.1 Million from SuperPacs = $512.2 MillionĀ  (Trump of that amount personally donated $100 Million of that number)

Think about just how much money was contributed to those in the same election who ran for the House and Senate, to candidates for governor, mayor, state legislators, local city council seats and even dog catchers! The total must be tens of billions of dollars.

Let me ask this question: knowing how the process exists, knowing WHY it exists, and, more importantly, knowing that “The love of money is the root of all evil,” why is this entire process still allowed in the United States?

The Process

I am a strict capitalist. I have started several companies. When doing so, I, in advance, puzzled through all the obvious obstacles I would face, determined when moving forward what was my overall objective of the company, how to achieve it, and then carefully put in place all the necessary resources for that objective. Those resources included infrastructure, personnel, operating necessities, and, of course, capital to power the ship.

The beauty and untarnished concept of capitalism worked perfectly in my case: all those companies did not succeed as hoped and as planned. But what determined their success or failure had nothing to do with anything but me and how I missed or hit the right stages in building and growing that company. What was at the end of a win in doing so? Financial freedom, a tremendous sense of accomplishment and value along with numerous OTHER opportunities.

Politics is not different at all. Someone seizes the same thoughts, ideas, and plans. The same requirements are there to build that idea and make it grow. It requires opportunity, infrastructure, personnel, operating necessities, and of course, capital. The difference between an entrepreneurial startup company and a life in politics is found in one word that is a necessity in both: money.

Political capital is raised by creating an environment structured to secure contributions. That environment is usually a combination of funding sources that include individuals, PAC’s and SuperPac’s, and from the candidate personally. Other than those, campaign contributions are restricted. To see just what those restricted contribution sources include, click on this link: https://www.fec.gov/help-candidates-and-committees/candidate-taking-receipts/who-can-and-cant-contribute/

This process was created to keep as much of the graft and political influence as possible from impacting elections. Money is the single largest energy source to make possible a win.

How do we stop all these dollars flowing into elections to, in essence, buy election results?

That has been addressed over and over again, year after year, decade after decade, for several hundred years! The most recent solution was “Campaign Reform.” Total reform seemed to be the only way to stop our steady move to an environment in which the candidate with the most money would win every election.

Let me throw a monkey wrench into the thinking on that. Take a listen to George Will, who explains what Campaign Reform is:

 

Wow! So is there any way to keep the political influence that results from campaign contributions impacting election results?

The answer is to eliminate SuperPacs. The problem in accomplishing that is the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled in a famous case called “Citizens United” that SuperPacs can open the cash register at will to fund elections!

A super PAC is a modern breed of a political action committee that’s allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions, individuals, and associations to influence the outcome of state and federal elections. The rise of the super PAC was heralded as the beginning of a new era in politics in which elections would be determined by the vast sums of money flowing into them, leaving average voters with little to no influence.

A Political Action Committee (PAC) compared to a Super Pac

The most important difference between a super PAC and traditional candidate PAC is in who can contribute, and in how much they can give.

Candidates and traditional candidate committees can accept $2,700 from individuals per election cycle. There are two election cycles a year: one for the primary, the other for the general election in November. That means they can take in a maximum of $5,400 a year — half in the primary and a half in the general election. Candidates and traditional candidate committees are prohibited from accepting money from corporations, unions, and associations. Federal election code prohibits those entities from contributing directly to candidates or candidate committees. Super PACs, though, have no limitations on who contributes to them or how much they can spend on influencing an election. They can raise as much money from corporations, unions, and associations as they please and spend unlimited amounts on advocating for the election or defeat of the candidates of their choice. Also, Super Pacs, in some cases, do NOT have to reveal sources of contributions.

Summary

How do we stop this crazy spending on elections to assure elected candidates are those best qualified for the job and not just the one with the most “connected” campaign funding sources? Get rid of SuperPacs! Since the Supreme Court already ruled in Citizens United that cannot happen, how can we rid the system of those SuperPacs? With a new law.

Who makes those “new” laws? Congress. And the fact that members of Congress are the chief beneficiaries of SuperPacs, it will be tough at best to get a change.

In the interim, I suggest you pay close attention to all those who run for elections that directly impact you: from the White House, Congress, your state and city. When you find a candidate with whom you agree, get the facts of their campaign contributions and contributors. If those dollars come chiefly from SuperPacs, be cautious.

There is no panacea for this. Americans need to pressure members of Congress to write a NEW law that addresses each of the reasons for the SCOTUS overturn of Citizens United. That needs to happen NOW.

The grim Reaper gleefully looks in using money to change our lives to be the way HE wants them to with no regard for you or me.

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