Let's get the money out of politics. Then we can deal with the NRA.
Parkland shooting survivor and activist David Hogg recently asked why John McCain has taken over $7 million from the NRA (not to mention other millions they and other "guns rights" groups have spent supporting him indirectly).
McCain's answer, no doubt, would be the standard politician-speak these days: "They support me because they like my positions; I don't change my positions just to get their money." It's essentially what Marco Rubio told the Parkland kids when he was confronted with a similar question.
And it's a bullshit answer, as we all well know.
America has had an on-again, off-again relationship with political corruption that goes all the way back to the early years of our republic. Perhaps the highest level of corruption, outside of today, happened in the late 1800s, the tail end of the "Gilded Age." (Gilded, of course, refers to "gold coated or gold colored," an era that Donald Trump is trying so hard to bring back that he's even replaced the curtains in the Oval Office with gold ones.)
One of the iconic stories from that era was that of William Clark, who died in 1925 with a net worth in excess, in today's money, of $4 billion. He was one of the richest men of his day, perhaps second only to John D. Rockefeller. And in 1899, Clark's story helped propel an era of political cleanup that reached its zenith with the presidency of progressive Republicans (that species no longer exists) Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.
Clark's scandal even led to the passage of the 17th Amendment, which let the people of the various states decide who would be their U.S. senators, instead of the State Legislature deciding, which was the case from 1789 until 1913 when that amendment was ratified.
By 1899, Clark owned pretty much every legislator of any consequence in Montana, as well as all but one newspaper in the state. Controlling both the news and the politicians, he figured they'd easily elect him to be the next U.S. senator from Montana. Congress later learned that he not only owned the legislators, but in all probability stood outside the statehouse with a pocket full of $1,000 bills in plain white envelopes to hand out to every Member who'd voted for him.
When word reached Washington, D.C., about the envelopes and the cash, the U.S. Senate began an investigation into Clark, who told friends and aides that, "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale."
Mark Twain wrote of Clark: "He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a chain and ball on his legs."
State Senator Fred Whiteside, who owned the only non-Clark-owned newspaper in the state, the Kalispell Bee, led the big expose of Clark's bribery. The rest of the Montana senators, however, ignored Whiteside and took Clark's money.
The U.S. Senate in 1899 launched an investigation, and, sure enough, found out about the envelopes and numerous other bribes and emoluments offered to state legislators, and refused to seat him. The next year, Montana's corrupted Governor appointed Clark to the Senate, and he served a full eight-year term.
Clark's story went national, and became a rallying cry for clean government advocates. In 1912, President Taft, after doubling the number of corporations being broken up by the Sherman Act over what Roosevelt had done, championed the 17th Amendment (direct election of senators, something some Republicans today want to repeal) to prevent the kind of corruption Clark represented from happening again.
Meanwhile, in Montana, while the state legislature was fighting reforms, the citizens put a measure on the state ballot of 1912 that would outlaw corporations from giving any money of any sort to politicians. That same year, Texas and other states passed similar legislation (the corrupt Speaker of the House, Tom Delay [R-TX], was prosecuted under that law).
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