Cash and Carry
Two new books size up the money-driven configuration of American politics
2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp?on the Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics
by Kenneth P. Vogel
$27.99 List Price
How do we define the corruption that money brings to our politics? It’s easy to be vaguely concerned about “money in politics” in the dollar-saturated public sphere that’s risen up following 2010’s Citizens United and subsequent federal-court decisions. Many people are. But the “corruption” that’s taking place now isn’t as simple as some would make it seem, and its complexity contributes directly to its power and endurance.
Indeed, if a presidential candidate were caught on film accepting from a railroad tycoon a silver briefcase overstuffed with greenbacks, that could supply enough impetus to push through some sort of modern legislation cracking down on our restored anything-goes campaign-finance system. But overt, easily digestible “bribery” is too low-tech a method of purchasing influence for the barons of the twenty-first century.
And besides, who would be so naive as to believe that outright bribery is the only worrisome manifestation of money corrupting politics? Oh, wait, that’s right: the fellow who currently runs the Supreme Court of the United States.
In his latest decision overturning longtime political-spending regulations—the majority opinion in 2014’s McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down aggregate donation limits to candidates, political parties, and PACs—Chief Justice John Roberts lays out his litmus test for the constitutionality of a campaign-finance regulation targeted at eliminating corruption: “Any regulation must instead target what we have called ‘quid pro quo’ corruption or its appearance. That Latin phrase captures the notion of a direct exchange