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Money in Politics

Last week, in the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission case, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the narrow (5-4) majority that "Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so, too, does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects." Roberts went on to say, "The government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse."

This type of manipulative thinking has become the prevailing standard among arch conservatives (We are not talking the basic Reagan conservatives of 35-40 years ago who merely wanted to strip away all social services, we're talking about diabolically arch conservatives who want to crush all of the civil rights of Americans below the level of the super rich and powerful.). Roberts and fellow evil ones Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and the minutely less arch Anthony Kennedy (no relation whatsoever to Joe, Jack, Bobby or Teddy) would have us, the masses, believe that Sheldon Adelson spending $92 million on the 2012 election had no more corrupt impact on the process of campaigning than the waitress in Pahrump, Nevada, who scraped together $10 in tip money to donate to her third cousin's campaign for state senate.

As for the argument about newspapers endorsing multiple measures and candidates. Yes, that is protected under the freedom of the press clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, but Chief Justice Roberts' words are specious at best. He ignores the fact that gigantic corporations and the filthy rich have in the past decade or two brought undo influence on Congress and regulatory institutions in order to allow those very same megacorporations and filthy rich to gobble up newspapers as well as radio and television stations so that today's "mainstream" media outlets are controlled by only a handful of corporate giants and mega-rich individuals.

It is odd that the same big money media that loves to celebrate the most mundane of Kardashian and Kanye anniversaries, granted very little air time or news space last year to the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution. The 17th Amendment provides for the direct election, by the voters, of US Senators. Prior to 1913, US Senators were selected by members of each state's legislature. In the decades following the Civil War, particularly in the Gilded Age from 1880 on, when the incredibly wealthy often bought their way into the US Senate through undue influence (think: Senator Leland Stanford of California), calls for reform grew until direct election of US Senators became a basic plank in the campaigns of every Populist and Progressive candidate of the 1890s and early 1900s.

The poster child for turn of the 20th century big money influence in state legislature selection of US Senators was William A. Clark of Montana. W.A. Clark started out as a self-made hardworking man who drove mule trains loaded with goods as simple as eggs between Salt Lake City and the mining boomtowns of Montana. With his profits he moved on to banking, where he repossessed several indebted mining properties. Employing innovations like electric power he turned many of his mines into hugely profitable enterprises. In turn he bought up more mines, railroads, and newspapers. By the time Montana gained statehood he was known as one of the "Copper Kings" of Montana. Even in 1890s or early 20th Century value, Clark's wealth was measured in hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps approaching $1 billion, a figure that would be equal to hundreds of billions today.

Clark and daughters visit Columbia Gardens, which he built in Butte. It was about 1917. Andrée (left) was approximately 15 years old, making Huguette (right) about 11 and Clark 78.
Clark and daughters visit Columbia Gardens, which he built in Butte. It was about 1917. Andrée (left) was approximately 15 years old, making Huguette (right) about 11 and Clark 78.

In 1899 Clark handed out so much cash to Montana legislators in an effort to be named US Senator that even the US Senate took notice and voted to deny him a seat. Clark is reported to have said of this, "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale." Still apt words to describe many of our state and national politicians in the 21st Century.

William Andrews Clark's daughter, Huguette Clark is the major subject of a new book entitled, Empty Mansions. Huguette was born in 1906 and died in New York in 2011. Empty Mansions refers to the fact that Ms. Clark possessed a number of "homes" worth tens of millions of dollars apiece, most of these remained completely vacant for decades. A Connecticut palace remained unused except for a caretaker's labors from 1951 on into the 21st Century (expensive automobiles parked in the garage still had their 1949 license stickers in place).

Huguette Clark's possessions included a vacant house overlooking Santa Barbara, valued at $85 million, the New York home her father had built (more than 100 rooms, unused for the last 20 years), and at least two Renoir paintings (value: tens of millions of dollars each) that have not been seen since Clark bought the art works in 1930.

The Santa Barbara mansion is supposedly going to be turned into some kind of art gallery or museum. I'm all for art, but how about kicking a few million of the Clark bazillions back to the general populace, if not directly to homeless shelters or food banks for the ever growing numbers of American poor?

The McCutcheon ruling, like the Citizens United case before, further protects the political influence of super rich individuals like the Clarks while the same Supreme Court majority of evil has also chipped away at the Voting Rights Act, which seeks to protect the rights of the elderly, the poor, and persons of color.

The super rich generally put the power of their purses behind repressive candidates and legislation, which usually equals heavy donations to Republican candidates. However, one of the wealthiest people in the world, Alice Walton, a major shareholder in Walmart, has been a long time Hillary Clinton supporter. Alice Walton's most recent mega-giveaway: Raising the minimum wage of Walmart workers?

No way, Jose! She spent over a billion dollars to build an oversized art gallery in Bentonville, Arkansas, presumably instantly turning it into the Paris of the Ozarks.

Somewhere names are being taken down by the ghosts of Ida Tarbell, Studs Terkel, and the Dust Bowl dispossessed. Names are being taken down and woe be unto Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, the Koch brothers and their ilk when those who have been duped by Rupert Murdoch's Fox News race bait and switch finally wake up and turn a bright light on the super rich and powerful. Let's hope it is sooner than later that we can tell the greedy, real-life Walton family, "Good night."

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