Previously published on BillMoyers.com
If you want to see how grossly money can distort democracy, just go to the state of Virginia, where there are no limits on how big a check can be written for statewide office. Groups and individuals from outside the Old Dominion are taking full advantage, pouring millions into a governor's race they see as a dry run for the tactics they'll use in the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential race -- sort of the way the Spanish civil war turned out to be a testing ground for many of the deadly weapons of World War II.
Billionaires like environmentalist Tom Steyer on the left and the Koch Brothers on the right are placing their bets, but as they say at the track, the horses they're backing are just a couple of hay burners. Once the home of Washington and Jefferson, James Madison and Patrick Henry, Virginia now has a choice between two mediocrities slavishly devoted to their wealthy contributors.
The Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, has been in training for years as courtier to the rich. He has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the Democratic National Committee, which he chaired for four years and the campaigns of his -- Best Friends Forever -- Bill and Hillary Clinton, who now are shaking down donors for him. Along the way, according to the Washington Post, this gregarious bagman used government programs, his huge Rolodex of political connections and wealthy investors from both parties to enrich himself. He organized a company to build electric cars and promoted it to investors with a prospectus featuring photographs and ample references to his Clinton ties. He even got the former president to show up at the opening of the plant in Mississippi, along with that state's former Republican governor, Haley Barbour, who made his fortune as a lobbyist in Washington for the tobacco industry.
Strange bedfellows, these crony capitalists -- you may remember that Hillary Clinton's brother, Tony Rodham was involved, too, searching out foreign investors for the electric cars. When the spotlight of scrutiny crossed their path, McAuliffe resigned from the company, which is now under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The Washington Post also reports that one of McAuliffe's top 20 donors -- at $120,000 -- is the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry, which issues flags of convenience to shipping companies that want to dodge taxes and labor regulations and that McAuliffe invested in an alleged insurance scam that stole identities from the terminally ill. His campaign says that like other investors, McAuliffe was deceived. The fellow in charge of the scheme donated more than $25,000 the last time McAuliffe ran for governor, in 2009. Hmmm...
In a recent debate, his Republican opponent, state attorney general and right-wing zealot Ken Cuccinelli, said that if McAuliffe's elected, they'll have to change the state's motto from "Sic Semper Tyrannis" to "Quid Pro Quo." That's Latin for you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.
But Cuccinelli is in no position to talk. The candidate was drawn into that Virginia money scandal in which Jonnie R. Williams, Sr., CEO of Star Scientific, a company that manufactures dietary supplements, showered lavish presents and perks on the current governor and his wife. Cuccinelli also received a sprinkling of Williams' largesse. He recently donated the value of what he says he got -- $18,000 -- to charity.
What's more, his donor list includes considerable checks from big tobacco and big coal, including Murray Energy Corporation, which has often been fined for endangering the health and safety of its miners. Last year, its boss, Bob Murray, was discovered insisting that employees contribute time and money to his favorite anti-regulatory candidates -- including Mitt Romney -- or else.
Now Cuccinelli's touting a major tax cut for the rich, with a plan that, according to the liberal Center for American Progress, would give 47 percent of a proposed tax reduction to the top five percent of Virginians. The state would lose nearly a billion and a half dollars in revenues so the rich can be even richer.
Not surprising, Cuccinelli's a major climate change denier, as well as a fractious opponent of Obamacare, a woman's right to choose and gay marriage. He once wanted to make it legal for employers to fire an employee if they were heard speaking Spanish. No wonder he's the favorite of Citizens United -- yes, that Citizens United, the right wing group that got the conservatives on the Supreme Court to give corporations the same free speech rights as real people.
So come Election Day, pity the voters of Virginia. Whether they choose the glad-handing Democrat or the self-righteous Republican, once again, the real winner will be Big Money.
Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com.