Five of the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court appear supremely indifferent to the obviously negative influences of unrestricted spending in our nation’s political campaigns, but surely the American people must be outraged that a few extremely rich individuals are unrestricted in using their own wealth to promote their own political views.
There are numerous instances of billionaires donating huge sums to promote political causes and candidates and because of the Supreme Court’s notorious Citizens United case two years ago there’s absolutely nothing to impede their spending plans. That this is how our democracy is working in the 21st century surely would alarm our nation’s Founding Fathers, so often hailed as their political role models by so many conservatives, who also are the principal beneficiaries of the unbridled campaign finance system.
Two such instances stand out in this presidential election year. Fortunately, one of them turned out to be a dud and the other has fallen by the wayside because it was so outrageous that even the presidential candidate it was intended to help repudiated it.
The dud involved the multiple millions donated to a Political Action Committee supporting the candidacy of Newt Gingrich for the Republican presidential nomination. While few outside his home state of Georgia saw any real hope in Gingrich’s campaign, a billionaire Las Vegas casino owner, Sheldon Anderson, more than once pumped millions into his almost-comic bid for the nomination.
Apart from Anderson’s millions, the Gingrich campaign was pretty much on life-support from the beginning. Few took seriously his shameless claim to personal brilliance and his lofty proclamations about establishing a colony on the moon.
Gingrich promised to remain in the hunt for the nomination “all the way to Tampa” (where the Republican Party will choose its presidential nominee in August) but he broke that promise when even he finally realized what everyone else knew, that there was no way he’d be his party’s standard-bearer against Barack Obama.
A more egregious example of the dangers of unrestricted financial aid to a candidate’s cause was the one sponsored by Chicago billionaire Joe Ricketts. What the owner of the Chicago Cubs had in mind, according to reports in The New York Times last week, was an advertising campaign that would have reminded voters that a radical black Chicago pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, had once been Obama’s spiritual adviser. That charge was leveled in Obama’s successful 2008 campaign and made no headway whatsoever, yet Ricketts was prepared to try it again. He also planned to describe the president as a “metrosexual black Abe Lincoln.”
Fortunately, the Ricketts plan collapsed when even the intended beneficiary, the presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, distanced himself from it.
“I want to make it very clear, I repudiate that effort,” Romney said of the Ricketts plan.“I think it’s the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign.”
Romney neglected to acknowledge he had mentioned the fiery preacher, Wright, back in February when he told Fox News that Obama’s worldview was in part shaped by Wright, whose Chicago church the president once attended. Reminded of those remarks last week, he did not retreat from them.
“I’m not familiar precisely with what I said (in February), but I’ll stand by what I said, whatever it was,” the man who aspires to the presidency lamely explained. But give Romney credit for distancing himself from Joe Ricketts, for whom political success is just another purchase in a warped system that may work for the wealthy few but not for the rest of us.
For the bond
Voters in East Montpelier head to the polls tomorrow to decide the fate of a $10.3 million bond to upgrade the elementary school. The committee charged with making the public recommendation has come up with a plan that fixes the immediate problems the school has, and looks to the future. The committee has done an outstanding job — through forums, mailings and door-to-door conversations — to educate the public on the badly needed work.
This is a good investment, and a good time to invest in this community asset, which also doubles as a community meeting (and polling) place. Many times, projects of this magnitude become lightning rods for politics and special interests. East Montpelier appears to know the importance of this vote for its community as a whole.
Support the bond, and thank those people who have made this decision transparent, fair and thought out.
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