Which Candidates Will Take On The Baked-In Corruption?

Untitled, Oil on Panel, 36" x 45", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Robert H. and Cheri H. Van Wagoner**

I’ve often wondered what the United States government would look like, how the interests of the public would be served, if the political system did not require that the candidates and elected officials be compromised. They deny it, claiming the money pours in because of their policies and positions, not to influence them. Of course they do. Funny.

I am sorry to be so cynical. Elections in the United States are driven by money and the influence it purchases. Maybe because of the perverse influence money buys, many of us vote against our own interests. As we approach the next general election, we should keep in mind that money and the influence it purchases have thoroughly corrupted the election process and the United States government, distorting the public interest. The democratic process is largely incapable of self-correcting to eliminate the corruption because electing people who could take such steps depends on money and the influence it purchases. Therefore, insisting on voting for someone who claims s/he is above the corruption, isn’t and won’t be corruptly influenced, and will fight against money in politics may be principled, but may also be naïve. Voting for the least influenced candidate who is electable (I’m all in for Elizabeth Warren) may be the most hopeful option for any meaningful reduction in the pervasive corruption and for government’s reintroduction to the public interest.

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, Why Has Trump’s Exceptional Corruption Gone Unchecked, Mark Schmitt discusses the distortion of public interest by money. He explains:

“The compromised behavior of legislators who have limited choices about how to raise money is built into the way we’ve structured elections. ‘Good people trapped in a bad system,’ my old boss, former Senator Bill Bradley, used to say, with perhaps more generosity than it merited.”

Corruption is not the sole province of any political party, candidate or official. Granted, Individual-1, whose moniker derives from corruptly influencing his own election, has taken corruption to levels never before seen in this country except in RICO criminal enterprises which he and his administration now epitomize. Congress returns this week to more than 60 investigations of Mr. Trump and his administration and the number continues to grow. Yes, in clear violation of the domestic emoluments clause he is using the United States treasury to line his pockets and attempt to prop up failing Trump Organization properties. Also a matter of record is his continuous systemic violation of the foreign emoluments clause. And yes, he invited and welcomed foreign interference and influence in his last campaign and it appears he is doing the same in the lead up to 2020. Indeed, he may be using the United States treasury as a carrot to influence Ukraine to assist him by providing opposition research on, and likely some manufactured negative story about, Mr. Biden.

I hope we are not becoming habituated to his increasingly brazen corruption. Nothing seems to surprise us because, well, . . . it’s Donald Trump. But we should never become complacent. That said, Mr. Trump’s most flagrant corruption is of a different quality. It is not of the type that is “baked” into the system. In fact, the Constitution and laws of the United States proscribe the graft the Department of Justice and Senate are enabling, if not encouraging, as the executive branch openly transforms into a kleptocracy.

Money and the influence it purchases are what drive the electoral process and decision making of the elected. Senators seeking re-election spend two-thirds of the last two years of their terms fundraising. House members spend more than half their working day fundraising. Appointment to House and Senate committee chairmanships is accompanied by huge payments to the majority party. Unlimited dark money under Citizens United is supplied through some 4,000 political action committees. There are some 9,500 registered federal lobbyists, or about 18 for every legislator, and an unknown number of unregistered federal lobbyists, spending some $3,000,000,000.00 annually to influence members of Congress. Money well spent because of the return on investment. Self-interested business insiders and lobbyists have outsized access because of money.

In many respects, some may argue, the United States government is a corporatocracy in which immense financial influence in government results in substantial benefits for a very small percentage of the population, including exacerbating income inequality. The corporate capture of government makes it responsive to the ones with the money. Once again, inexplicably many of us vote against our own interests. The leaders and beneficiaries who have the means to purchase influence include the banking and financial sectors, insurance, technology, the pharmaceutical industry, fossil fuels, military contractors and, unfortunately, gun manufacturers.

Please vote. Please vote wisely.

*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to and

**Richard’s list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in a number of traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in and are hers



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Criminal defense and First Amendment attorney.