I can tell you from having been on the front lines of the high-rollers who keep politicians in office that – while not all are looking for a special tax loophole for their industry or an appointment to the Court of St James – they absolutely have unparalleled access to elected office holders. So, I was struck by David Kirpatrick’s emphasis simply on no proof of corruption in his NYT piece “Does Corporate Money Lead to Political Corruption? I was at Harvard’s JFK School of Government a year before I was the NY Finance Chair and the National Vice Chair of the euphemistically named 1988 Democratic Presidential Victory Fund. That’s when the Times coined a phrase I agree with, “sewer money,” which ended more than a decade of my high-level political fundraising.
I had a professor who’d gone from a Harvard undergrad to a Harvard grad student to a Harvard adjunct to a Harvard tenured professor and had never so much as stood on a corner to register a single voter. One of his first lectures had a title like “Why People Vote the Way They Do.” He quoted the 1954 University of Chicago Berelson study and even footnotes from other academic papers that built off or disputed its findings. After his lecture I said, “I find it remarkable that you just gave a lecture about how electoral opinions are formed and you never once mentioned the word money.”
With a straight face he said, “There’s no empirical evidence that money affects elections in any way. Have you done a regression analysis on that?” Many of the political science professors quoted in Kirpatrick’s piece seem to imply something similar. OK, perhaps not out-flat bribery or actual transactional “a buck for your vote, sir,” but these major donors definitely get to spend a lot of professional and personal time with those who are going to vote on key issues. Right now I’m picturing a particular bash on Nantucket where I was dancing with leaders of the US Senate: really easy to just drop an idea, oh so casually, if one was so inclined.
Thus, the insight that informs the comment of long-time Common Cause President Fred Wertheimer quoted in the article, “You can’t prove a negative, but…” At a time when the distance between those in power and those who are feeling the burden of having virtually no power continues to grow – with considerable anger on the right and the left – we must take a stronger stance than having to prove corruption: undue influence should cause enough concern.
This is why I agree with Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ assessment that the majority were wrong to treat corporate speech the same as that of human beings. I am heartsick when I anticipate the vitriol we can expect from election campaigns to come. And I am saddened to see more than 80 years of laws protecting the integrity of elections – from the 1925 Federal Corrupt Practices Act to the formation of the Federal Election Commission in 1974 in response to Watergate to the 2002 “McCain-Feingold” Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act – eviscerated.
I’m keeping vigil on what happens next, including following initiatives like those of Ultimate Civics and the Campaign to Reform Democracy that are calling for a Constitutional Amendment. While I’m not an advocate of that, I am interested in changing anything that reinforces the Corporate Personhood Doctrine. And, I would like to see that sewer money kept away from our politicians.
So, “we, the people,” I welcome your thoughts on money, politics and the impact of this Supreme Court decision