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Frank A. Weil

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Too Much of a Bad Thing May Be Good

Posted: 02/21/2012 5:49 pm

The now infamous Citizen United case, when the Supreme Court opened the flood gates of money into our political process, might just as well have put up a sign saying "GOVERNMENT FOR SALE."

So far the public does not seem to have fully grasped what is happening. "Independent" committees have been raising and spending large sums in the run up to the 2012 Presidential election. There are a few familiar names coming to light as heavy hitters in that process, including such operatives such as Karl Rove setting up "independent" campaign committees, and the Koch brothers (with their large and severely conservative wallets) picking up the tab. Public understanding and outrage at this excessive misuse of both money and access to influence things for the benefit of already privileged people is rising, but so far does not appear to have engendered the outrage that this scheme deserves.

Now, however, we may be on the cusp of watching something that is so outrageous it actually may help wake the world up to what is happening. A man named Sheldon Adelson, a longtime friend of former Speaker Newt Gingrich who made billions largely in the casino-gambling hotel world, has already contributed $10,000,000 through independent committees to help get Gingrich nominated. It is now rumored that Adelson is about to add another $10,000,000 before the Super Tuesday primaries on March 6. It is highly doubtful that any one person has ever before poured that kind of money into any political process -- and it's certainly never been done legally.

It is also highly doubtful that many people in America would approve of someone who becomes president being so deeply indebted to anyone, particularly a gambling mogul.

That is why we may be lucky enough to see the collapse of the doctrine of unlimited money in politics. Such egregious abuses could well fan the flames of public discontent with a political process fabulously rich in cash but sorely lacking in principles, courage or candor. It is rare indeed when too much of a bad thing becomes a good thing. Let's hope!

Why would either Adelson or Gingrich risk the kind of negative fallout their arrangement rightly arouses? Gingrich, for his part, has little to lose, lagging well behind Romney and Santorum for the Republican nomination and desperate for anything that might resurrect his fading prospects. Adelson, too, has little to lose. His wealth affords him the luxury of not particularly caring about the opinions of others, and anyone who made billions in the rough and tumble world of gambling undoubtedly has skin thick enough to suffer the slings of good government types, the press, or a disgruntled public. Besides, who knows? If Gingrich were to be reborn and even elected, Adelson would still be a billionaire, but he'd be a unique billionaire with deep ties to the leader of the free world.

The mash of greed and ambition that brings people like Adelson into the political arena, and that makes people like Gingrich clamor for their favor (and funds), leaves little room for the public interest.

We really ought to take down the "For Sale" sign and find a better way to finance our political process. Nothing less than the future of democracy depends on it.