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“Polluted Political Games”: Our Entire Money-Based Political System Is Institutionalized Sleaze

I’ve admired the Clintons’ foundation for years for its fine work on AIDS and global poverty, and I’ve moderated many panels at the annual Clinton Global Initiative. Yet with each revelation of failed disclosures or the appearance of a conflict of interest from speaking fees of $500,000 for the former president, I have wondered: What were they thinking?

But the problem is not precisely the Clintons. It’s our entire disgraceful money-based political system. Look around:

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey accepted flights and playoff tickets from the Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, who has business interests Christie can affect.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has received financial assistance from a billionaire, Norman Braman, and has channeled public money to Braman’s causes.

Jeb Bush likely has delayed his formal candidacy because then he would have to stop coordinating with his “super PAC” and raising money for it. He is breaching at least the spirit of the law.

When problems are this widespread, the problem is not crooked individuals but perverse incentives from a rotten structure.

“There is a systemic corruption here,” says Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money. “It’s kind of baked in.”

Most politicians are good people. Then they discover that money is the only fuel that makes the system work and sometimes step into the bog themselves.

Money isn’t a new problem, of course. John F. Kennedy was accused of using his father’s wealth to buy elections. In response, he joked that he had received the following telegram from his dad: “Don’t buy another vote. I won’t pay for a landslide!”

Yet Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s labor secretary and now chairman of the national governing board of Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group, notes that inequality has hugely exacerbated the problem. Billionaires adopt presidential candidates as if they were prize racehorses. Yet for them, it’s only a hobby expense.

For example, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson donated $92 million to super PACs in the 2012 election cycle; as a share of their net worth, that was equivalent to $300 from the median American family. So a multibillionaire can influence a national election for the same sacrifice an average family bears in, say, a weekend driving getaway.

Money doesn’t always succeed, of course, and billionaires often end up wasting money on campaigns. According to The San Jose Mercury News, Meg Whitman spent $43 per vote in her failed campaign for governor of California in 2010, mostly from her own pocket. But Michael Bloomberg won his 2009 re-election campaign for mayor of New York City after, according to the New York Daily News, spending $185 of his own money per vote.

The real bargain is lobbying — and that’s why corporations spend 13 times as much lobbying as they do contributing to campaigns, by the calculations of Lee Drutman, author of a recent book on lobbying.

The health care industry hires about five times as many lobbyists as there are members of Congress. That’s a shrewd investment. Drug company lobbyists have prevented Medicare from getting bulk discounts, amounting to perhaps $50 billion a year in extra profits for the sector.

Likewise, lobbying has carved out the egregious carried interest tax loophole, allowing many financiers to pay vastly reduced tax rates. In that respect, money in politics both reflects inequality and amplifies it.

Lobbyists exert influence because they bring a potent combination of expertise and money to the game. They gain access, offer a well-informed take on obscure issues — and, for a member of Congress, you think twice before biting the hand that feeds you.

The Supreme Court is partly to blame for the present money game, for its misguided rulings that struck down limits in campaign spending by corporations and unions and the overall political donation cap for individuals.

Still, President Obama could take one step that would help: an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose all political contributions.

“President Obama could bring the dark money into the sunlight in time for the 2016 election,” notes Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. “It’s the single most tangible thing anyone could do to expose the dark money that is now polluting politics.”

I’ve covered corrupt regimes all over the world, and I find it ineffably sad to come home and behold institutionalized sleaze in the United States.

Reich told me that for meaningful change to arrive, “voters need to reach a point of revulsion.” Hey, folks, that time has come.


By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 28, 2015

May 31, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Donors, Campaign Financing, Lobbyists | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The NFL Is Full Of Ray Rices”: So Much For Zero Tolerance

After the first video of Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator surfaced in July, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for a mere two games. An apparent knockout punch was punished with a slap on the wrist, which Goodell later acknowledged wasn’t enough.

“I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values,” Goodell wrote in August. “I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

Goodell revised the NFL’s disciplinary policy with regards to domestic violence: a six-game suspension or more for the initial infraction and up to a lifetime ban for recidivists, with the opportunity for annual appeals. Even though Goodell said that “domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They have no place in the NFL and are unacceptable in any way, under any circumstances,” a great many abusers of women still in fact have a place in the league.

Ray Rice’s teammate and All-Pro linebacker Terrell Suggs has twice gotten into altercations with his then-girlfriend and current wife. In 2009, he allegedly, “threw a soap dispenser at her head, hit her in the chest with his hand, and held a bottle of bleach over her and their 1-year-old son.” In 2012, he “punched her in the neck and dragged her alongside a speeding car with their two children in the vehicle.” Unlike Rice, Suggs was on the field with the rest of the Ravens on Sunday.

Carolina Panther Greg Hardy was convicted this summer of assaulting his girlfriend and threatening her life.

“He looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me,” Nicole Holder told the court. “I was so scared I wanted to die. When he loosened his grip slightly, I said, ‘Just do it. Kill me,’”

Hardy was given a 60-day suspended sentence and put on probation for 18 months. Last Sunday, he suited up for the Panthers, registering one sack and four tackles.

Brandon Marshall, wide receiver for the Chicago Bears, has a rap sheet including two domestic violence charges. He caught eight passes for 71 yards and a touchdown in an overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills last weekend.

Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys hit his mom and then said, “I’m done with domestic abuse” at a 2013 “Men Against Abuse” rally. The NFL is not done with him.

Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers was part of a defense that shut down Bryant’s Cowboys, even though he was busted for felony domestic violence a mere 72 hours after Goodell’s revised policy was announced. 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said last week, “If someone physically abuses a woman and/or physically or mentally abuses or hurts a child, then there’s no understanding. There’s no tolerance for that.” Unless you play for Jim Harbaugh.

Randy Starks was forced to miss a single exhibition game despite striking his fiancée. He still plays for the Miami Dolphins.

Frostee Rucker had a one-game suspension overturned by Goodell in 2007 despite two counts of spousal battery. Rucker now plays with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The only reason charges against Chicago Bears wide received Santonio Holmes were dropped in 2006 is because his accuser—the mother of his children—refused to testify against him. Holmes often lines up next to fellow abuser Brandon Marshall.

Even if you think they all should all be kicked out yesterday, it’s hard to imagine a plausible scenario in which Goodell—with a tenuous grip on the commissioner’s plush leather chair—might enact a Stalin-esque, retroactive purge.

First, doubly punishing the aforementioned players would definitely raise howls from their union, the NFL Players Association. Second, the 32 team owners aren’t particularly interested in having their very valuable assets taken away from them. After all, they didn’t sever the contracts of Suggs, Hardy, Marshall, McDonald, Starks, Rucker, Holmes, et al after their abuse became public.

Furthermore, were these wealthy men to take a hard-line stance, you’d have to assume that the Commissioner would have to bring the hammer down on the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones, should he lose the lawsuit which alleges that he sexually assaulted a woman a third his age, and “fondled her genitals, forced her to touch or rub his penis, and required she watch as the 71-year-old Jones received oral sex from another woman.”

To paraphrase Fox & Friends, don’t get caught beating women on camera and you’re safe to play in the NFL.


By: Robert Silverman, The Daily Beast, September 9, 2014

September 10, 2014 Posted by | Domestic Violence, National Football League, Violence Against Women | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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