Republican Senator Roy Blunt was in the news recently because he made it known that he had no intention of returning money donated to his campaign coffers by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert who, although now retired, is mired in an emergent scandal:
“Returning donations gives some sense that you are going to look at the behavior of everybody who gives money to a campaign,” Blunt, R-Mo, told reporters during his weekly press call. “I don’t know if I have time to do that, and I would expect not to be returning donations to anybody.”
Hastert allegedly resorted to illegal means to pay off a blackmailer who had the goods on him for the sexual abuse of a student back when he was a highschool wrestling coach. Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, while withholding judgement, described the money as tainted, while the Democratic Party immediately claimed that keeping it was in some way corrupt.
I have to say that for the first time in just about ever, I’m with Blunt. Money is money, and as long as it isn’t taken in return for political favors – which is clearly not the case with Hastert’s donation – it doesn’t represent corruption. Like Blunt, I see no reason for politicians to be held accountable for the personal lives of their donors.
But, I have heard folks object, in 2006 Blunt not only got rid of $8,500 from lobbyist Jack Abramoff by donating it to charity, but was emphatic that other politicians should either return the money or similarly donate it. But, I respond to those folks, the situations are very different. Abramoff was a lobbyist who was convicted of buying favors from politicians. Keeping money he donated left the donee, by implication, very suspect. Especially a donee like Blunt, who, as one of the GOP moneymen in the House at that time, essentially a “liason” to K-street lobbyists, was already somewhat tainted by association with Abramoff. So, see – not the same thing at all.
But what boggles my mind is that anyone would be debating whether or not Roy Blunt should return paedophile Dennis Hastert’s piddling little gift, but nobody would think to demand that he return the massive amounts that he collects from representatives of the communications, energy, tobacco, etc. industries, industries to the welfare of which he devotedly ministers. In a sane world, soliciting and accepting money and returning favors to the donors is corruption pure and simple. And there’s no doubt that Blunt is really good at getting those corporate dollars. Similarly, there’s no doubt that he’s one of the most reliable go-to boys when it comes corporate favors.
Everybody knows that Senator Blunt, selected in 2010 by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) as one of Wasington’s most corrupt politicians, might have a difficult time passing the smell test. It’s difficult to even keep count of the questionable favors Blunt has done for his corporate cronies. The industries noted above reward his hard work very reliably, though he isn’t averse to taking on any entity willing to pay. Most of us remember his attempt to slip an unrelated rider meant solely to benefit Montsanto into some sundry piece of legislation – which is why Mother Jones dubbed him Montsanto’s man in Washington. Or, to take a more recent example, consider his work on behalf of the for-profit education sector. Just a couple of months ago he managed to make an ass of himself by blaming students of predatory institutions like Corinthian Colleges and Vatterot College – both big campaign contributors – for borrowing to finance their educations.
But enough about ol’ Roy’s dirty deeds. Nobody cares. Unless you can get secret surveillance video of Roy hammering out the quid pro quo in person, it doesn’t seem to count as corruption. At least not in the same way that taking money from a sex abuser who told the FBI some fibs in order to hide the fact he was paying off a blackmailer inspires the indignant pointing of fingers.
In a 2014 Politico article, Zephyr Teachout, author of the excellent Corruption in America, notes the flaws in such a restrictive definition of corrupton as regards quid pro quo:
In McCutcheon v. FEC, the landmark case that threw out aggregate limits on campaign spending last week, Chief Justice John Roberts made clear that for the majority of this current Supreme Court, corruption means quid pro quo corruption. In other words, if it’s not punishable by a bribery statute, it’s not corruption.
This is a reasonable mistake to make at a dinner party. But it’s a disastrous mistake to make for democracy, when the stakes are so high. Essentially, Roberts used a criminal law term-of recent vintage and unclear meaning-to describe a constitutional-level concept. It is as if he used a modern New York statute describing what “speech” means to determine the scope of the First Amendment.
It is misunderstandings of this sort, and the promulgation of same by a frequently ideologically befuddled conservative Supreme Court majority that is responsible for the success of money grubbers like Blunt. To be clear, it has also forced politicians who would prefer not to grovel for dollars to do so in order to compete, since only patsies advocate unilateral disarmament. But no matter who the offender is, we all pay the price. As Teachout concludes in her book’s introduction:
What America now faces, if we do not change the fundamental structures of the relationship of money to legislative power, is neither mob rule nor democracy, but oligarchy.
So let Blunt keep Hasterts offerings. But, please, let’s do something about the money he takes in from AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Montsanto, Murray Energy, et al.