On Independence Day it will be helpful to remember that the true patriots are those who love their country so much that they want to better it.
The continuing great scandal of our government has been the corruption of its processes through the power of the dollar. This is what Watergate was about. It is what Citizens United was about. It is why Dave Owen, once a lieutenant governor of Kansas, the party’s former chairman and chief power broker, spent a year in a federal peniten-tiary.
The scandals at the White House and in Congress reflect even the scandals in Kansas. Democrats as well as Republicans have been tarred because over these many years the services of representatives, senators, cabinet members and agencies have been bought and sold.
One root of the evil is the campaign contribu-tion. Only recently, in Washington at the Trump Hotel, the president spoke to 150 supporters; about half of them had paid $100,000 to $250,000 each for a summit organized by a far-right super PAC. Politics is such an expensive business that even noble souls must ask for money, legally or ille-gally, directly or by subterfuge, from corporations, unions, associations and the power-hungry and glad-handing rich. For large donations, the givers expect special favors in return, favors ordinary citizens cannot get. After all, this is plutocracy, not democracy.
To remedy this, we embarked on a virtuous adventure to finance federal election campaigns with tax money. The flaws were obvious from the start. There were arguments about candidates’ eligibility for the money, and whether Republican taxpayers should be asked to finance Democrats and vice-versa. And was the political power of the federal bureaucracy to be increased? When is a candidate so rich that he or she needs no assis-tance?
Early objections were met with another propos-al, a system of matching funds. Under this plan, individual contributions were limited to a few thousand dollars, depending on the particular cam-paign and the election cycle. When a candidate had collected a specified total – reportedly – he or she was eligible for equal amounts to match future private contributions, again within the limits, up to a specified campaign spending ceiling.
For awhile, the matching funds plan had its advantages, screening out the frivolous candidates while helping those with broad public support. It gave voice to the smaller contributors; supposedly a candidate would have strong incentive to seek a large number of small private gifts. The idea was to give ordinary citizens a practical opportunity to put their money where their mouths were, and it was to free the candidate from having to kowtow to the Sugar Daddies of the political theater.
Alas, the biggest spenders have always found ways to skirt the rules and skate the edges. We had once thought that a cleansing action would come out of the national tragedy of Watergate, that other scandals would prompt enduring political reforms. Without those reforms, we feared, our government would cease to be for the people or by the people and we, the people, would have failed.
After Nixon left the White House under a suf-focating cloud of shame, we endured succeeding scandals by the decade: Rostenkowski, ABSCAM, the Keating Five, the Abramoff affair and more. In Citizens United, the Supreme Court has granted full voice to money.
The deepest pockets are eager for rule, a danger that could turn Independence into a meaningless catchword.