Op-Ed

Who has bought your candidate? Who knows?

GEARING UP?: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.
GEARING UP?: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. AP

From time to time, especially after being exposed to a Hillary Clinton stemwinder that sounds like Roseanne Barr singing the national anthem, some Democratic Party liberals yearn for the more melodic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to please, please, please enter the presidential campaign.

And while the Republican field of possible presidential candidates is beginning to look like Animal House’s toga party, former Gov. Jeb Bush has emerged as the leading Bluto Blutarsky of fundraising bacchanalia.

There are two main reasons why Warren, despite all the entreaties, will not enter the 2016 race. First, while she may be ambitious, she is not a self-destructive idiot. And second, to be remotely considered a serious presidential candidate, one must raise at least $50 million by the end of 2015. And with all the cash gushing toward Clinton, where would Warren find even a fraction of that initial ante?

To appreciate the growing and insidious influence of money on the political process, consider this: In the 1996 presidential race, the campaigns of incumbent President Bill Clinton and his challenger Bob Dole spent $240 million combined.

By 2012, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney spent a combined $2.6 billion. That pays for a lot of lanyards.

Much has changed since 1996. The media landscape is larger. And campaign-finance laws have enabled politicians posing as wink-wink/nod-nod non-candidates to raise unlimited sums of moolah while pretending to be merely thinking about maybe running for the White House.

In short, it’s a scam for con artists like Clinton and Bush and all the rest to evade the nation’s election laws, which have about as much legal force as the penalties for removing a mattress tag.

Bush has been particularly aggressive in his political panhandling, signing off on the creation of a nonprofit group with the bland title of Right to Rise Policy Solutions Inc. That allows his supporters to raise endless amounts of cash without having to disclose who is buying access. The grifting is different from the formation of a super political action committee whereby individuals and corporations can also fork over as much money as they wish but their identities are eventually made public.

The practice permits donation of legalized, secret bribes to the Bush camp, while skirting the limit of $4,700 one could give were the governor to formally announce his presidential candidacy.

Who will give to Right to Buy-Off Jeb Bush’s Ambitions Inc.? We will never know.

Other potential candidates such as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also are benefiting from similar nonprofits, but the Baksheesh for Bush organization is the only shadowy money machine to create the veneer of a tax-exempt, transparency-exempt group.

To be sure, the American public isn’t a collection of complete dopes. We know huge mega-donors drive the narrative of the political message, and we also know the average citizen is viewed by the candidate as a mere supernumerary of the stump.

Money always has been a vital cog in the campaign. It must be raised and spent effectively. But the public at least ought to have a right to know who is stuffing the coffers of campaigns and how much the streetwalking floozie posing as a presidential candidate has collected.

So it is telling that for all the jibber-jabber about freedom and democracy and flag-waving and liberty and yada-yada-yada, Bush, the Little Lord Fauntleroy of the Republican Party, doesn’t trust you to know the going rate for his scruples. You have the right to shut up.

Say, there’s a Founding Father moment for you. With apologies to Harry Truman, time for a new campaign slogan, perhaps?“Give all of the hell of it to Jeb!”

We know this much all too wearingly well. Regardless of who resides in the White House — Bush, Clinton, or (insert snicker here) someone else — the pursuit of the presidency will have become little more than a Jerry Lewis Telethon of Monetary Duplicity.

Daniel Ruth is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.

© 2015 Tampa Bay Times

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