116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The financing of political campaigns in our country is a mess. If money talks and candidates listen, we should all, regardless of party, be concerned about the integrity of political campaigns, and, thus, government. There is a difference between a donation and an investment. You and I donate, and small donations have risen, both in dollars and numbers of contributors.
But, much more money comes from self-serving interests. Big and dark money is at record levels. In the last election, Joni Ernst and Teresa Greenfield raised over $70 million. Outside groups spent another $170 million here. Iowa was the second most expensive Senate race in the country.
I’ve tried to do my part in balancing that. I have been recognized for my generosity. If you give a little bit of money, say $50 or a $100, to a couple congressional campaigns, you make dozens of friends for life. In a single recent week, I had 51 requests, including seven from Nancy Pelosi and four from the gubernatorial candidate in Nevada.
I am on a first name email relationship with Adam Schiff, Kamala Harris, and especially Nancy. Occasionally, I hear from Joe and Jill.
It is an irritant often and a nuisance always, but it is a democratic way to fund campaigns. If we could add more through public financing, as some other countries do, we might avoid the dollars and power of the superrich.
My contributions are matched by George Soros on the liberal side, and David (who died in 2019, but whose dollars live on) and Charles Koch on the other. The Kochs are the second richest family in the world, worth $98.7 billion. The family can afford a million or two without changing their lifestyle.
They want to stop any legislation that deals with climate change, want lower taxes, less government regulation, and criminalization of homosexuality, despite a gay brother who sued them for cheating him of family money. They have generously funded the Tea Party, and David was the Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee in 1980.
Their influence extends beyond federal elections. A watchdog group has written, “The Kochs backed the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of conservative state lawmakers and business lobbyists. They've drafted "model legislation" that lawmakers have introduced to cut taxes, weaken environmental protections, and promote other conservative ideas. More than 600 of them have become law across the United States.”
While, as a liberal, I still deplore the influence of big money, not all moneybags are created equal. Gorge Soros, a constant Trump target, is one of the world’s foremost philanthropists. He has given away more than $32 billion to fund the Open Society Foundation’s work around the world. He recently gave $500 million to Bard College.
Beyond Soros and the Kochs, there are “dark money” bankrollers who have enjoyed freedom to pollute politics in the wake of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a Supreme Court a 5-4 decision in 2010, that said a federal law restricting corporate and unions from making expenditures in federal elections. It was unconstitutional, a violation of their free speech, thus treating them as individuals under the First Amendment.
Citizens United has given life to the mess and sustained it. Its disappearance would be its greatest contribution.
Norman Sherman of Coralville has worked extensively in politics, including as Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s press secretary, and authored a memoir “From Nowhere to Somewhere.”