Last week, the Mike Huckabee campaign released what has to be the most bizarre presidential ads of the political season -- a 30-second commercial that compared Washington D.C. to strip clubs, where “the political class dances for the donor class and the working class gets stuck with the tab” (that sure is a lot of class talk for a Republican). The analogy doesn’t really make any sense, and is kind of insulting to strippers, but the message is clear enough. The Huckabee campaign is criticizing Washington D.C. as a landfill of corruption and unethical behavior (because what says unethical behavior like a strip club), and like every other politician in existence, Huckabee believes he’s the man to clean it up with his "Christian values."
While Huckabee is the clear winner for "dumbest ad of the season" so far, he is far from being the only Republican candidate who has criticized Washington as a place where politicians are puppets for the donor class. It is Donald Trump, after all, who has been the most vocal about this issue (even though he has used it in a purely self-serving way). He has criticized his fellow candidates for courting the infamous Koch brothers, bragged about being a part of the donor class, and accused other frontrunners, especially Jeb Bush, of being puppets. During the first debate, he stated:
I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people. Before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me. And that’s a broken system.
Again, Trump is exposing our corrupt political system for no other reason than to accuse his competitors of being puppets, but it is nevertheless a good thing to hear a corrupter talking about how he can buy off politicians, if only to raise awareness.
Whether discussing K Street or the Koch brothers, it is popular these days to talk about how corrupt and broken Washington is, especially because it is glaringly obvious. Just look at the Benghazi panel, which has been in existence for 73 weeks now -- recently surpassing the existence of the Watergate Committee -- and was last week imprudently revealed to be a political witch-hunt by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who will most likely be the next Speaker of the House. And what about the disastrous Planned Parenthood hearing, where Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who is also running for speakership, brought a misleading chart that compared the number of Planned Parenthood abortions and cancer screenings, which has since been called “ethically wrong” by an expert and ruled “Pants on Fire” by Politifact. No wonder congress continues to have dismal approval ratings from the public.
As I said, it is popular for every politician from both parties to talk about how Washington is corrupt and broken these days, but hearing it from Republicans is kind of like hearing Wall Street bankers blaming the 2008 financial crisis on poor people who couldn’t pay their mortgages. Which party, for example, has been conducting these tax-funded political witch-hunts going after Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood? Which party supports the Citizens United ruling that gave corporations and billionaires the right to spend unlimited funds on elections? And which party is it that seems to threaten a government shutdown every year if it doesn’t get exactly what it wants?
While Trump, Huckabee and other GOP candidates love to talk about how corrupt Washington is and how they will clean it up if elected, most of them do not dare utter those two infamous words, Citizens United. Indeed, the only time you see Mike Huckabee’s name next to those two words is when he works with the organization that swept in todays era of unlimited political spending. Back in 2011, for example, he made an anti-abortion documentary with Citizens United.
To Donald Trumps credit, he has said that he loves “the idea of campaign finance reform” and has called for more transparency, while also claiming that he does not agree with the Citizens United ruling. He has not, however, suggested limits on donations or the public financing of campaigns.
Democratic candidates, on the other hand, have been much more vocal about correcting our corrupt electoral politics. Indeed, Lawrence Lessig is running his campaign on the sole issue of repealing Citizens United and enacting campaign finance reform. His campaign website states:
Most candidates have a long list of goals they wish to achieve as president. Lessig has just one. He will serve only as long as it takes to pass the reforms necessary to fix our corrupt political system. Once passed, he will resign, and the vice president becomes president of a government that works.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been the most vocal of the leading candidates about getting big money out of politics, and has introduced plans to overthrow Citizens United (with either a constitutional amendment or Supreme Court reversal) and move towards a public financing system. Even Hillary Clinton, who is no stranger to super PACs and Wall Street, has said that her Supreme Court nominees would have to pass a litmus test on overturning the Citizens United ruling.
Now, none of this is to say that the Democratic party isn’t also corrupted by money -- it’s impossible not to be in this post-Citizens United age. But when it comes to corruption and dysfunction, the GOP takes the cake. One only has to look at 2016 campaign contributions to see which party is more dependent on the “donor class.” Republican candidates are overwhelmingly more likely to receive large contributions and Super PAC support than Democrats -- especially compared to Sanders, who recently broke a fundraising record of over one million donations (the majority of which were under $200).
It is pretty clear that none of the Republican candidates are truly concerned about our political system and the plutocracy it has become. While Trump may condemn puppet politicians, it is not hard to see that he is simply using it as a way to attack his fellow candidates. Besides, if Trump really had a moral problem with our political system, as Sanders and Lessig do, he would have taken a stand long ago and stopped freely donating to politicians of all stripes for favors. But Trump does not really have a problem with it, and has been a crony-capitalist his entire career.
America democracy is one of the major issues of our time, and whether our political system can be cleansed from corrupt monied interests is a big question for 2016. But one thing can be sure, Republicans sure as hell won’t be the ones to do it.