Money Rules – but Does it Have to? Perhaps Not.

You know the old saying, he who pays the piper calls the tune? Well, that’s the bottom line in politics. And in America, it’s Big Business that pays the piper. Of course, it’s not as blatant among Democrats as among Republicans, but both parties are obliged to keep those “major donors” happy.

You may have read that millions of small contributors – you and me for example – were responsible for President Obama’s re-election, and that’s at least partly true, but he couldn’t have done it without the backing of people like the golfing buddies he palled around with last weekend.

I don’t think of Texas when I think of Democratic donors, but the president (with Chicago buddy Dr. Eric Whitaker and golfing legend Tiger Woods) teed it up with four Texans at the exclusive Florida resort. They were:

  • Ron Kirk, a former Dallas mayor who will soon step down as the president’s trade representative
  • Tony Chase, a Houston lawyer who left the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in 2008 to raise money for President Obama’s campaign
  • Milton Carroll of Houston, the chairman of CenterPoint Energy and another Obama donor
  • James R. Crane, a major campaign contributor who owns a freight company, the Houston Astros baseball team and the resort where the golfers were staying.

I certainly don’t begrudge the president a weekend at a fancy resort, playing golf with some good ol’ billionaires. Who could refuse an invitation like that? Not me. But I think the incident illustrates the hard reality of politics: You have to play the game as it is;  it’s not going to let you change the rules.

I suppose somebody should explain that to Elizabeth Warren (above, left). But I’m glad nobody has. It’s politicians like her that keep a smoldering ember of hope alive in American politics.

In an article for today, David Sirota spotlights Ms. Warren as a representative of the Democratic Party’s idealistic faction. The “corporatist” side of the party, Sirota writes, is represented by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (above, right).

Sirota has this to say about Hickenlooper:

 As the new vice-chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, the former petroleum geologist and beer mogul represents a cabal of Democratic politicians whose brand couples moderate positions on social issues with hard-edged corporatism on economic ones.

 Sirota takes Hickenlooper to task for his “corporatist” policies:

On labor issues, after a summer of staging media events to thank firefighters for combating wildfires, the Colorado governor publicly threatened to veto legislation that would enshrine the right of those firefighters to choose to form a union. Of such basic legal protections, Hickenlooper flippantly declared that he does “not believe it is a matter of state interest.”

On environmental issues, it is the same story. Hickenlooper this week testified against federal legislation that would compel energy companies to disclose what toxic chemicals they use when fracking for natural gas. His testimony made headlines after he insinuated that fracking fluid is so harmless that Americans can safely drink it.

Sirota adds that Hickenlooper “has also denied that climate change is happening, offered to back corporate lawsuits to overturn municipal drilling regulations and appeared as a spokesman for the oil and gas industry in its political advertisements.”

I wasn’t surprised when Sirota revealed that Hickenlooper’s political career is “bankrolled by fossil fuel firms.”

Meanwhile, as Sirota points out, Ms Warren was using her first committee hearing as a senator “to slam Obama administration regulators for being weak on financial crime.”

Sirota speculates that Governor Hickenlooper and Senator Warren might face each other in the 2016 presidential primaries.

If they do, I know which candidate I would support.  And it certainly wouldn’t be Hickenlooper.

But I fear that wouldn’t matter… Unless, of course, millions of us small fry chip in to counteract the money gushing from Hickenlooper’s oil barons.

Who knows? Elizabeth Warren did it in Massachusetts, where Republican opponent Scott Brown had the backing of Wall Street while she depended on contributions from everyday folks all over the country..

Perhaps she could do it again – for the sake of America.

Elizbeth Warren photo by  Tim Pierce:

Click here for an account of the president’s golfing weekend.

Click here for Sirota’s article.