1. Opinion

Ruth: Buying access to the powerful is not new

Published Aug. 26, 2016

This is clearly outrageous! What we are dealing with here is obviously corruption at the highest levels of government. And yes, that is Lady Liberty weeping.

Imagine, simply imagine the venality at play. There, right there in her august and historic chambers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally met with individuals who also had contributed to the Clinton Foundation.

Clearly, judging from all the hand-wringing, the howls of protest, the allegations of criminality, and the calls for a special prosecutor, no one in a high position of power has ever, in the 240-year history of the country, had a meeting with rich people. Oh, the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington scandal of it all.

It must be serious. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who is more ethically pure than St. Francis of Assisi, has demanded Clinton be investigated by everyone from the College of Cardinals to the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague to Law & Order "immediately, immediately, immediately." Oooooh, three immediatelys. Trump must mean business.

We can all readily agree that the optics of Clinton granting audiences to deep-pocketed swells who had sent tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation are not good, especially since she and her husband promised to keep the lines clear while the missus served as the nation's top diplomat. Cue Muttley the cartoon dog snickering.

But to get truly offended by someone who forks over a million dollars here, a million dollars there to the Clinton Foundation and finds himself sitting across from Hillary Clinton requires a well-honed, willful naivete. Really now, people have been buying access to government officials since Benjamin Franklin was dating Madonna.

Wouldn't it be fun to conduct a little experiment?

Test Subject A would be some lowly sad sack Floridian who has never given so much as a farthing in political contributions. He calls up Gov. Rick Scott's office seeking a face-to-face appointment with the governor to discuss his views on government.

After the crickets are done chirping, Test Subject B, a U.S. Sugar Corp. executive, whose company has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Scott's political action committee Let's Get to Work, calls the governor's office seeking a face-to-face appointment to discuss his views on government.

Who do you think would be granted the meeting with Florida's official state hologram? Take your time.

Across the political spectrum, Big Daddies from the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson on the right to George Soros and Tom Steyer on the left have been using their vast wealth to canoodle their way into the inner sanctums of political power. Of course, the donated monies are cast as political contributions, but they really are little more than legalized bribes.

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Before Donald Trump, R-Pollyanna, underwent an epiphany of ethics, the candidate spent a considerable amount of time on the presidential primary hustings happily bragging about his long history of buying access.

"I give to everybody," Trump preened. "When they call, I give. You know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them and they are there for me."

Indeed, the Republican nominee has donated to Democrats, including New York Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California. Oh, and there was the $250,000 of Trump money that went to — wait for it — (ta-dah!) the Clinton Foundation.

Great groans of despair waft across the political landscape over the notion that people with juice are able to get carte blanche political champagne concierge service, while you remain forever consigned to eating beans and franks with a plastic spork in steerage.

Trump calls all the pretty money tied with a bow a "rigged" system. And it is. But that still hasn't prevented the candidate from holding $100,000-per-couple campaign fundraising events on the way to hauling in $51 million in June alone.

Meanwhile, to schmooze with Hillary Clinton can cost donors as much as $200,000.

Can we all put on our big-boy pants here? While it is probably true these affluent benefactors are contributing to Trump or Clinton because they support their views, does anyone honestly doubt that if you wrote a check for $200,000 to either candidate, it is with the expectation you'll have access to a future President Trump or President Clinton? And you will.

A rigged system? You betcha, especially if you are outbid in the donation/bribery game.

But if you are wealthy, why, this is nothing more than priceless democracy.


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