KAMISCHKE: Campaign contribution or bribe?

I can’t tell the difference between campaign contributions and bribes. One is legal and one is not; but in all other significant ways, they look identical.
Mar 7, 2014


A bribe, according to Merriam Webster, is “money or favor given or promised in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust.”

In defense of campaign contributions, we are told that a candidate has a set of positions, and donors find candidates whose positions align with theirs and support them financially. Thus, contributions are a form of free speech, agreement between donor and politician. It doesn’t influence votes. Ergo, it’s not a bribe.

Here are a few reasons that rationale doesn’t hold water:

First, it ignores all the new, ambiguous decisions that will arise during a term. When considering their options, politicians will be influenced to keep the donor’s backing in succeeding campaigns.

Second, if the rationale is true, anonymous donations would create the same outcome; but, it fact, candidates know their donors, and donors want to be known. Why? That gets us to the last reason.

How do businesses justify using the stockholders’ money to back certain candidates? It’s because they expect something in return, and that’s hard to do if you’re anonymous.

Candidates are searching for money. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee gave their entire freshman class a suggested schedule that showed 40 percent of their time each day should be spent raising money. I’m sure Republicans have a similar number.

Have you ever received one of these calls? I haven’t. My representatives can’t spend their limited “call time” asking for my meager donations. They’re calling those who give big donations, the donor class.

Beyond the candidate’s solicitation, there are those who want to give candidates financial support. We have nearly 12,000 registered lobbyists (many more if we include unregistered influencers) chasing 535 national senators and representatives, and they spend more than $3 billion a year doing it.

Lobbyists represent the interests of particular citizens, corporations and industries, and are protected by the constitutional right to petition government. By definition, all these lobbyists are trying to influence Congress to support their viewpoint, and they are awash with money.

Let’s review the bidding. A requirement for any candidate seeking office is to raise enough money to produce a viable campaign. To do that, candidates must constantly call big donors or take calls from lobbyists; and to get their money, one must be aligned with the donor’s views by the end of the call.

This essentially means that there is an election before the election, a donors’ primary, that defines the slate of candidates that appears on the ballot. A tiny fraction of 1 percent of the population is defining for whom we can vote.

So, in the crudest terms, we are getting to vote only for those people who represent the interests of a very small group of Americans.

How does this play out? Let’s take the tax code. At nearly 4,000 pages, it is filled with rules and regulations that are technical and arcane. It stays that way because there are interests who care about the status quo and benefit by particular tax exclusions. Thus, rather than write new tax policy, a simpler policy, a fairer policy, Congress instead passes extensions that keep things just as they are, making donors happy.

A Johns Hopkins survey, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reports 70 percent of respondents (including the majority of NRA members) supported bans on military-style semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, yet nothing happened! This appears to be a donors-before-voters decision.

The Citizens United Supreme Court case opened the floodgates to even more money in political races. By way of explanation, the Supreme Court said that, despite all the money, the American people “have the ultimate influence over elected officials.” But in Federalist Paper 52, Madison was clear in saying that the House of Representatives was to be “dependent on the people alone.”

The Supreme Court said we get to be the last deciders, but the Founding Fathers thought we should be the only deciders.

Given our campaign financing rules, it’s easy to understand that candidates, even those who want to be independent, will quickly learn that pleasing donors and getting elected are closely coupled.

How can we get Congress to support legislation that moves the U.S. in the direction the people want, if their first allegiance is to the donor class? Furthermore, of the 412 who left the 111th and 112th congresses, 304 (73 percent) are now working on K Street as lobbyists for 10 times the salary. That looks suspiciously like a reward for good behavior.

Does anyone not see that a campaign contribution is a bribe wearing a cheap wig and a false mustache?

— By Richard Kamischke, Tribune community columnist



"Corporations are people, my friend". Mitt Romney, during a presidential debate.

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever". George Orwell.

One ruling - Citizens United - removed any restrictions on corporate - foreign or American - money in politics. Prior to Citizens United, a presidential candidate had a certain amount of ownership of, and control over, his party's national ad campaigns and expenditures. In Citizens United world, presidential candidates have far less control; a large part of campaign money is now spent by political entrepreneurs and strategists outside the campaign who are unanswerable to any institution. Candidates don't have control over their own campaigns, and become essentially instruments of outside forces.

In the 2012 presidential election, more than a billion dollars was spent to get Mitt Romney elected, primarily from two major conservative sources - Karl Rove's super PAC, and Koch Bros groups. Thanks to a Supreme Court conservative majority 5-4 opinion, the donors to these groups will remain in the dark, and the floodgates of corporate money can now legally, constitutionally, and anonymously buy a US president.

George Orwell's world may be snarling at the door, but US voters can prevail through aggressive and dominant engagement in the electoral process. After all, over a billion dollars from super-wealthy and corporate donors wasn't enough to get Mitt Romney elected.

One-half of all donors who gave to Obama's 2012 re-election were $200. or less - 48% compared to Romney's 9% of donations of $200. or less, a record number.


So what you are saying is that money can't buy an election but lies can. I don't see one being better than the other.


What lies are you referring to? The Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, tried to win by both buying and lying:

False statements made by Mitt Romney about Barack Obama - see link for substantiation:

"Regulations have quadrupled. The rate of regulations quadrupled under this president."
"In one year, (President Obama) provided $90 billion in breaks to the green energy world … into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1."
Says President Obama has "doubled" the deficit.
"Right now, the (Congressional Budget Office) says up to 20 million people will lose their insurance as Obamacare goes into effect next year."
The "48, 49 percent" that supports President Barack Obama are "people who pay no income tax."
(EDIT)President Obama’s lawsuit claims it is unconstitutional for Ohio to allow servicemen and women extended early voting privileges during the state’s early voting period.
"Obamacare adds trillions to our deficits and to our national debt."
Says Barack Obama "is the only president to ever cut $500 billion from Medicare."
"The president gave the (auto) companies to the UAW."
"This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip."
Says President Barack Obama has opened up no new trade relationships with other nations.
Eliminating "Obamacare" ... "saves $95 billion a year."
"Only one president has ever cut Medicare for seniors in this country . . . Barack Obama."


Tri-cities realist

The biggest whoppers of them all..

"White House Web page: "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan." "

See http://m.whitehouse.gov/assets/d...

It's still there as plain as day.


I like my doctor and health care plan, and I got to keep them. Within my relatively small circle of family and friends, no one has mentioned they were forced to drop their health care plan or their primary care physician. In fact, 85% of previously insured people will see very little to no changes. The majority of the other 15% who do will notice they now have far better insurance coverage than they did before.

If you are equating that admittedly over-expansive statement to the dozens of totally substantiated whoppers that Mitt Romney said in desperation to get elected when it began to become apparent the billion+ being spent wasn't going to cut it, you will have to do better than this.

Tri-cities realist

Well as long as the statement is true for you, I guess that is all that matters. Selfish much? And perhaps the reason your friends and family haven't mentioned it to you is because they want to spare themselves of a lecture as to why the govt knows better about their health care needs.

As for the president, you would think that being so highly educated and a good orator, in the dozens of times he has said similar things, he would have prefaced the comments with something like "for the vast majority of Americans..." But NO, he deliberately chose to lie to the American people in defense of the ACA. And for this obvious lie, what does he get from you? More praise. Your credibility on this is beyond waning.


Had a bad night, eh?

My health insurance situation, and that of my circle of acquaintances that I am privy to, was brought up strictly to make a point - Your insistence that the "same doctor/health plan" statement is a bald-faced lie that affects everybody is a lie in and of itself. There is loads of information out there that for millions of people it is not a lie, but is correct. And clearly, the insurance industry had 30 years to get it right, and failed miserably - although profits and CEO salaries/perks went through the roof. And clearly, the ACA is hardly a government takeover - it's actually more along the lines of corporate welfare to the health insurance industry.

I've written all I'm going to write about this subject with you. You are (willfully?) beyond reasoned and open debate on the topic when you go off-topic make personal ad hominem attacks directed to me. Selfish? Strained credibility? You owe me an apology.

Tri-cities realist

I had a great night, thanks, but I'll spare you the details. I am sorry but you don't deserve an apology from me.

You were the one that stated you and your family and friends didn't lose their coverage or doctor, but you showed no empathy for the many that did. To me that is selfish.

Please spare me the feigned outrage. Ad hominem? One two word phrase elicits that mischaracterization? Pull up the big girl britches.

"Your insistence that the "same doctor/health plan" statement is a bald-faced lie that affects everybody is a lie in and of itself." Nice try. I did not say this lie "affects everybody" but thanks for trying to attribute words to me that I didn't write. So now we have stooped to the level of debating whether a statement is a lie, if it only applies to some people, but not others. Good luck on that run for drain commissioner, how fitting.


And our community columnist is wiser than the Supreme Court. And I wonder what he thinks about the millions given by unions.


Yes, lczinder, in my opinion, Richard Kamischke is absolutely wiser than the five conservative Justices on the Roberts Court. In fact, I will go out on a limb and claim, within this context, most of our community columnists - and maybe even you - are wiser than those five Justices.

We must never forget that the Unions, however flawed you might think they are, are made up of average workers like you and me. They are part of the 98% of this country, and conservatives are working very hard to not only weaken what little influence unions have these days, but to get rid of them entirely. This is the master plan, and we ought to think very carefully about the implications for the working middle class and the working poor before we support that plan.

Tri-cities realist

I see, so now just being conservative makes one unwise, that my friends is why I fear "progressives".


No, not at all. Please re-read my comment. I specifically said that in my opinion, in this context, I think most of our community columnists, and lczinder perhaps, are wiser than the five conservative justices of the Roberts court. Surely there are conservatives among our group of community columnists!

By the way, you do know that the Koch Bros have several ties to both the Citizens United case, and some of the Justices on the court who ruled in their favor (Scalia and Thomas).

In the case, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled that corporate and union funds could be spent directly on election advertising.

The Koch brothers have been key supporters of the group Americans for Prosperity, which spent heavily in the 2010 midterm election and claims a nonprofit tax status that allows it to avoid disclosing its donors.

Clarence Thomas has been the lone justice to argue that laws requiring public disclosure of large political contributions are unconstitutional.

Litigants in the ‘Citizens United ‘ decision also attended the Koch brothers’ meeting. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce attended the Koch gathering and filed a ‘Citizens Unitied‘ brief supporting unlimited corporate spending in elections.

The Institute for Justice, founded by Charles Koch, and the Cato Institute, also founded by Charles Koch, filed briefs in support for overturning campaign finance laws. A number of the other groups filing briefs in the Citizens United decision, including the Center for Competitive Politics, are run by Koch meeting participants like Eric O’Keefe.


Tri-cities realist

Would that include Mr. Doolittle?

So if corporations shouldn't be treated as "people" should we stop taxing them? They can't vote, so why should they have to pay taxes?


I don't consider Doolittle a community columnist. He's merely the product of the Trib's selling of their soul to the devil - despite their many deserving awards and tributes.

Many corporations don't pay any taxes at all, or pay very little, thanks to cuts to corporate tax rates, off-shore tax-free havens, government subsidies, tax incentives, cadres of attorneys and accountants that do nothing but look for tax loopholes and other tax breaks.

That you appear to be supporting Citizens United and embracing the flood of dark money into politics unlike no other that the ruling has unleashed leads me to state that your credibility on this topic is beyond waning.

Tri-cities realist

How original. You know what they say about assuming... Congrats!

Hopefully you are consistent and do not (nor have ever) take any deductions on your taxes for home mortgage interest, gifts to charity, etc. Tax breaks are EVIL, right?

Tri-cities realist

If you don't consider Mr. Doolittle a community columnist then it must be so. Can I say the same for Richard Kamischke, or is this a one way street?


Great column and initial comment! I used to have a lot of respect for the courts until I saw this one over turning the Gore election and dismantling our union (and yes, also the workers' unions). Come back e pluribus unum!


Regarding the 2000 election and subsequent SCOTUS decision, Sandra Day O'Connor, the fifth and deciding vote, now admits to regretting both the decision and even for the Court to hear the case:

“It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue,” Justice O’Connor told the Chicago Tribune editorial board on Friday. “Maybe the court should have said, ‘We’re not going to take it, goodbye.’”

She continued: “Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision. It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn’t done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day.”

The result, she allowed, “stirred up the public” and “gave the court a less than perfect reputation.” http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes....

An understatement, imo, but at least she has enough integrity to speak out against the ruling, albeit a decade later.


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