Henry: Corporate cash in campaigns is insanity

Minnie Pearl appears as a guest on the Minnie Pearl appears as a guest on the Nashville Now cable TV show. Photo Credit: AP, 1990

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Money makes the world go round. Or is it love that makes the world go round? Or is it astrophysical forces unleashed at the creation of the planet that make it go round? It is a bafflement. But one thing for certain is that money is what makes the political world go round and then go haywire.

After all, love has got nothing to do with the political world, except perhaps that the love of money is the root of all evil. And the only astrophysical forces involved in politics are the various obsessed lunatics in perpetual but erratic orbit.

As if the tide of money wasn't already drowning democracy, the Supreme Court in 2010 further opened up the sluice gates of sewage with the infamous Citizens United case, which junked campaign finance rules limiting corporations (and unions) from making independent political expenditures close to elections.

Corporations were held to be like real citizens when it comes to First Amendment rights. So, in November, if you see a corporation or union trying to vote in the next booth, you will know that the logic of the case has come to full flower.

We can only hope that poll workers will make corporations show their personal IDs like many of us are now required to do. After all, what is good for the goose is good for Gander Worldwide Inc.

Well, perhaps I exaggerate the threat a little because hyperbole is the nudity of the English language -- it gets people's attention. But it is still amazing that the court concluded "that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." Oh, perish the very thought.

Still, the ripple effect of the ruling has been to encourage infusion of a ton more money into politics, so now every politician looks like Minnie Pearl on the old "Hee Haw" TV show, with price tags on their hats. At least the price of Minnie Pearl's hat was only $1.98; politicians require much more than that to cover their shame and enhance their chances.

More and more, the agents of special interests roam the land responding to the general cry, "Get your politicians here. Buy them nice and fresh. We have plump juicy ones for sale." Yes, if naivete were an Olympic sport, Team Supreme Court would have received gold medals for the mental back flips that produced such a ruling.

But thank goodness the money-grabbing politicians are neither corrupt nor give the appearance of corruption. And thank goodness the Tea Party folks have risen as one to keep democracy and their beloved Constitution free of the taint of political money, not that it is visible.

At this point, some readers may have detected a slight hint of sarcasm entering the text. That is unfortunate. Certainly, I do not mean to blame the Supreme Court for what is our collective predicament, because I feel strongly that it is wrong to pick on anyone who is elderly and/or out of touch.

And truly this is a plague on all our houses. I read with dismay in The New York Times last Sunday that President Barack Obama has spent more campaign money more quickly than any incumbent in recent times. A lot of this money was spent on logistical stuff such as field offices, but $86 million went to advertising between the beginning of 2011 and June 30 of this year.

(I don't care whose ads they are; I have the same opposition to early political ads on TV as I do to Christmas decorations and carols before Thanksgiving.) The result of this early spending is that the Obama campaign coffers are running low. Because political nature abhors a coffer vacuum, the coffers will fill up again -- and be depleted again, just as the Romney campaign's finances will ebb and flow, too.

As the endless ads try to market the candidates like breakfast cereal or beer, the voters will be left wondering whether it is the Democrat or the Republican who has more fiber in his character or is less filling or has more taste. As for the issues, you can forget them -- whatever ads say about the issues is guaranteed to be largely unreliable.

Maybe the independent-minded voters won't rely on political ads for so-called information but will actually research the candidates. Alas, thinking for one's self is another thing that doesn't make the political world go round.

All that said, any ad making an issue of Citizens United will get my attention. Maybe someone like Batman could be recruited to appeal to trivial-minded voters, always a key constituency. Batman already has a black robe.

Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Email rhenry@post-gazette.com.

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