With perhaps more creativity than we would like to give them credit for, Swallow and Powers found ways to duck, dodge, and hide from just about every Utah law designed to keep politics clean, transparent, and honest (I recommend reading Holly Richardson for some of the on point commentary on the scandal).
If only Swallow and Powers were the end of the problem. The fact of the matter is that wherever power exists, there is the tendency for corruption.
Almost as bad as the hidden money in politics, though, is the not-so-hidden money. Politicians at almost every level are limited on how much they can raise from donors, but do these regulations prevent the corrupting influence caused by the combination of power and money?
Recently, CNN began a series of reports looking into what they call the “surge” of donations to politicians.
“Meh,” I said. “So what?” I’m a First Amendment enthusiast, and I believe that money is closely connected to speech.
And then I watched Utah Representative Jim Matheson, who has just recently announced his retirement from Congress, walk across the screen en route to a fundraiser. In typical Jim Matheson fashion, he ignores the reporter and refuses to answer any questions, which, predictably, only creates more questions.
Like, for example: why the heck is he raising money if he’s not running for reelection? And why would anyone possibly want to donate to a lame duck?
Here’s the video. Matheson appears at about the 2:15 mark.
The argument I’ve most often heard in favor of regulating campaign finance (or speech) is that it gives big donors access and control over politicians. Certainly that was the reason that Swallow cited in emails for wanting to avoid the appearance of being the “payday industry candidate” during the 2012 race for Attorney General.
But what if it is the other way around? What if it’s extortion?
“I feel extorted,” John Hofmeister (who ran Shell Oil from 2005 through 2008) told CNN’s Drew Griffin. “Every time I wrote a check I felt that it was a form of extortion, the price of entry, because of the reception that you got when you contributed versus the reception when you did not contribute.”
Hofmeister’s view on Washington is cynical, but perhaps not inaccurate.
“The political theater of the hearing matters to them. And that’s exactly the mindset which I used to go into the hearing,” Hofmeister said. To please the powerful politicians, he found himself asking himself questions like “What role shall I play?”
“If you’re testifying, you’re in the subordinate role because the members are always up in a dais looking down at you,” said Hofmeister. “So you know you are subordinate to them. This is their town, their home, you’re an invited guest. But when the hearing is over … the curtains close on the theater. It’s back to business. And business is raising money.”
- Ex-Shell Oil president: ‘I felt extorted’ (cnn.com)
- John Swallow and “probable cause” (hollyonthehill.com)
- Ending the ‘culture of corruption’ will take more than a resignation (hollyonthehill.com)
- Money and the Utah AG race (hollyonthehill.com)
- Protecting The Free Speech of Censors: The Crystal Cox Saga (popehat.com)