I’m sick and tired of a government that responds to the whims of the wealthy rather than to the needs of its private citizens. It’s time to limit the money that the American oligarchs can spend on campaign financing, lobbying, and related influence buying. Friday, the Trump administration released new financial disclosures for its aides. The information is disquieting. See this article by Steve Eder, Eric Lipton, and Andrew W. Lehren in The New York Times, “Trump Aides’ Disclosures Reveal Surge in Lucrative Political Work“. Here are the first three Trump aide disclosures:
“Donald F. McGahn II, now President Trump’s White House counsel, made $2.4 million as a lawyer with a client list loaded with deep-pocketed conservative groups, from Americans for Prosperity, backed by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch, to the Citizens United Foundation.
Mr. Trump’s legislative affairs director, Marc Short, earned $78,000 from Freedom Partners, a Koch-linked group where he once served as president, plus nearly $380,000 for consulting work, listing clients such as the Club for Growth and Susan B. Anthony List, both right-leaning activist groups, as well as the presidential campaign of Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida.
And Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, reported earning more than $1 million in income tied to conservative-oriented work, with at least $500,000 of that from entities linked to the conservative megadonor Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, including the Breitbart News Network and Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm partly owned by Mr. Mercer that worked for the Trump campaign.”
The article continues: “Much of the new business has come through “super PACs” and political nonprofit groups whose fund-raising has soared since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. While such groups were once a modest sideline to campaign and lobbying work, the new campaign spending rules have allowed wealthy donors and their entourages to displace campaign managers and party leaders as the leading political power center.
More such business has come from private foundations and ideologically oriented media companies linked to donors like the Mercers, who have invested in websites, documentaries and other endeavors to battle traditional news organizations. They have also formed political advisory operations to steer their giving and promote their influence.”
While the US opens the flood gates to buying of our elections, rules in other countries effectively limit campaign financing and influence peddling. Consider this article by Josephine Simmons in Truthout, “Campaign Financing: Can the US Follow Europe’s Example?”
After discussing the problems in the US created by the open-ended campaign financing loophole of Citizens United, Simmons observes how effective limits on election financing are enforced in Europe. She notes: “One example of how Europe has limited the influence of money in its elections is the case of France. Time Magazine described the US campaigns as ‘bottomless-pocketed, influence-peddling, ultimate fighting Goofuses’ in comparison with the French equivalents, which were dubbed as ‘parsimonious’ and ‘noble minded Gallants.’ That is not to say that French electoral campaigns are pictures of perfection, but they have found several ways to limit corrupt practices. While individual contributions to candidates have a plentiful limit of $5,980 in comparison to the modest $2,500 of their Yank counterparts, the French system contains no loopholes such as the super PACS, which accept unlimited contributions.
In addition, in France it is illegal for corporations, unions and other special interests to make contributions to candidates. The country focuses its political campaigns on debating actual policy alternatives, strictly prohibiting the purchase of broadcasting space for ‘political commercials.’
Germany is another fine example of a system dedicated to cheaper and cleaner politics. All campaigns are primarily funded by the government, with only one-third of the cost being covered by corporate and individual donations. Parties are allocated a specific limit for television advertising and, unlike the rough public ridiculing of opponents that takes place in the US, there are no attack ads. Each party is allowed only one 90-second ad that will run for the entire election, starkly contrasting with the $400 million both Obama and Romney spent on television ads.”
See also Paul Waldman’s analysis in The American Prospect, “How Our Campaign Finance System Compares to Other Countries“.
Walman’s article contains a more general analysis, but notes that, even in other countries that lack limits on donations, there are typically other restrictions – such as limits on the period of campaigning or on the use of TV spots – that act to rein in the potential abuses. Waldman writes, “In most places there’s substantial public funding of campaigns, and candidates are often forbidden from campaigning until a relatively short period before election day. Put all that together, and you have elections where, even if it would technically be legal to rain huge amounts of money down on candidates, nobody considers it worth their while (for instance, here’s a nice description of the relative quiet of a German campaign). So the idea of someone spending two or three million dollars to get a seat in the national legislature, the way American House candidates routinely do, would seem absurd.”
It’s time to get serious about restricting the influence of the oligarchs. Other people do it, we should too. American exceptionalism does not have to mean “exceptionally corrupt”. While we are at it, we should insist on Trump’s tax returns which would, no doubt, reveal which side his bread is buttered on.