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Inside Politics: Who owns our politicians?

Campaign financing and the ethical dilemmas it poses candidates and government thundered through the 2016 presidential race, particularly the Democratic primaries. Sen. Bernie Sanders demonstrated the potency of the issue. Following the conventions, Donald Trump co-opted and adeptly wove the concern into the coarse weave of his populism.

It’s hardly a new concern. George Washington noted “Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.” The 1912 platform of Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party stated: “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”

Rob Walton pretty much validated these concerns, saying, “Business is going to get the politicians they want because they control the money, and money controls the power.” Sen. Robert Dole affirmed that assertion from the government perspective, saying, “When these political action committees give money, they expect something in return other than good government.”

Ronald Reagan genteelly described the ugliness of it all. “Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I’ve come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.” Humorist P. J. O’Rourke put it more candidly. “When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.”

Big money in 2016 politics got a robust airing nationally, but far less so in Idaho’s legislative and local elections. Idaho’s final campaign financial reports are due Dec. 8. Campaign financials are easily accessed on the Secretary of State’s website. We encourage voters to inspect December’s final filings. But here’s what we already know about the Magic Valley’s two most heated legislative contests.

Under 3 percent of Sen. Lee Heider’s and Rep. Steve Hartgen’s (both Republicans) contributions come from individuals. That’s four “people” for Heider and eight “people” for Hartgen.

Heider’s Health and Welfare Committee chairmanship likely explains why over 40 percent of his contributions came from pharmaceutical, insurance and other health care-related companies, associations and PACs. He also receives significant donations from the Idaho Soft Drink PAC and Altria (parent company of Phillip Morris). The first grouping profits from illness prevention and treatment. The second represents products scrutinized for links to health concerns. Heider notably opposes closing the Medicaid gap with public (largely federal) funds. This might have sparked an interesting public discussion had the curious combination been spotlighted during the recent campaign.

Hartgen received 70 percent of his donations from corporations and business-related PACs. He chairs the Commerce and Human Resources Committee and sits on the Environment, Energy and Technology and Revenue and Taxation Committees. Not surprisingly, over 40 corporations and PACs financed his campaign. That’s five for every individual that donated. His committees are charged with shaping Idaho’s job environment (anti living-wage and union), overseeing who pays taxes (working folks) and who gets tax breaks (corporations and the rich), and how we steward our environment, water supply and water quality, as affected by the Idaho’s various industries (anti-regulation). Not surprisingly he is backed by the Farm Bureau given that agri-industry is among Idaho’s largest special interests and recipients of massive government subsidies and tax exemptions. Forty corporations are a lot of legislator-whisperers sitting on the old corral fence.

Democrat Deborah Silver, Heider’s 2016 opponent obtained 76 percent of her campaign funds from individuals. Democrat Catherine Talkington, Hartgen’s opponent, received 70 percent from individuals. More than 200 separate individuals donated to their campaigns. Over 100 people donated $50 or less. Real working-class Idahoans with tight budgets donated what they could to get better representation.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating to re-enforce a point. Magic Valley Democratic candidates knocked on 10,000 doors this year. Democrats ask voters what they are concerned about and also give them a chance to ask our candidates person to person about their positions and tell the candidates how they feel about what they hear from them. They speak at service clubs and public forums too, but it’s one-on-one campaigning and funding by individuals that set Democratic candidates and the Idaho Democratic Party apart from Republican politicians.

Our candidates don’t have to give explanations about what they did or didn’t, will or won’t do for dozens and dozens of corporate donors and PACs. Our candidates’ and the Democratic Party’s focus is on the well-being and future prospects of Idaho’s people. We know that businesses and industries must prosper together for that goal to be achieved. But here is the difference. Democrats look at the world and shape our strategies and policies for business and health care and infrastructure first and foremost through the eyes and needs of Idaho’s individual citizens. We don’t see people’s interests only as a collateral secondary outcome of meeting the needs of industries, cronies and special financial interests.

As the old saying goes, “money talks.” Magic Valley Democratic Party money comes from people. Democrats listen to people. They actually make an effort to listen. They don’t tell you how to think in attack ads in the media or last-minute mailings.

If Twin Falls Democratic candidates are owned, you have the pink slips.

Democrats will keep a close eye on the strings tied to Republican politicians in the coming legislative session. Citizens, Times-News, and all Idaho’s print and media journalists are encouraged to do likewise. Don’t take politician statements at face value. Follow the money. Go to the Secretary of State’s website and see what’s really going on behind the green curtain.

Other View: Tweets vs. the Constitution

This appeared in Wednesday’s Washington Post. It’s not easy to run afoul of two constitutional amendments in 140 characters. Whether he realizes it or, more likely, not, President-elect Donald Trump did so in this Twitter outburst Tuesday: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that the First Amendment protects burning the flag in protest. The high court ruled in 1967 that the 14th Amendment not only grants U.S. citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized” in this country; it also forbids the government from taking citizenship away from them.

In effect, then, Trump is proposing two constitutional changes — both of which provide further evidence of his tendency to address differences and disagreements within American society by suggesting new limits on their expression, or by excluding people from the American community altogether. We have seen this tendency at work in his call to “open up” libel laws — i.e., make it easier for public figures such as himself to sue when newspapers criticize them — and in his floating a religious test for entrants from abroad.

On flag-burning, his view is no doubt popular: Forty-eight states and Congress outlawed it before the Supreme Court ruled in 1989; subsequent Congresses voted repeatedly to reinstate such a rule in various ways, albeit not by the two-thirds of both houses necessary to send a constitutional amendment to the states. Nor does the political right have a monopoly on burn-banning. Justice John Paul Stevens, one of recent history’s most eloquent judicial progressives, dissented, passionately, in the flag-burning case. In 2005, none other than Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., co-sponsored (unsuccessfully) a bill to bar flag-burning when intended to “incite violence.”

Certainly the flag is the greatest of our national symbols, an emblem of liberty, unity and democracy borne aloft not only by American soldiers in battle, but also by the prisoners of Dachau concentration camp who secretly sewed one, then waved it to welcome U.S. Army troops when they arrived in 1945 — and by the marchers at Selma, Alabama, who demanded their own portion of liberation 20 years after that. Its desecration rankles, deeply.

But burning-banners’ arguments ultimately founder on the rock of the First Amendment, which, if it means anything, means that the people have the right to express their views through the widest possible range of nonviolent means, even — or, perhaps, especially — those views that offend most deeply. It is ironic that a man elected on a platform of opposition to hypersensitive “political correctness” would embrace a flag-burning ban.

Another irony: Among those who understood the democratic necessity of protecting even the most unpopular expression was Justice Antonin Scalia, whom Trump purports to admire, and whose successor he will soon nominate. Many fellow conservatives disliked it, but Scalia often cited his vote to protect flag-burning as an example of how the Constitution limited his power, and that of all other government officials, to stamp out ideas they personally despised.

It would be President Trump’s prerogative to urge Congress, and the states, to rewrite the First Amendment along more repressive lines. Like Scalia, we prefer the original.

Letter to editor: Rynbrand

Don’t miss this

Nov. 22 is gone. I saw nothing on the news that mentioned it. This is sad. It is a very important date in history. If you want to know, look it up.

I hope the next important date, Dec. 7, is not forgotten by our nation. This is the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Twenty-two ships were sunk or damaged; with 2,403 killed and 960 are still MIAs. I spent 22 years in the Navy, retiring as a chief petty officer. Whenever one of my ships passed through Pearl, I went to the USS Arizona Memorial to pay respects.

Over 1,000 of her crew are still entombed in her. Few survivors are still alive. It still is leaking oil. When a drop of oil hits the water it looks like a rainbow on the surface. There are two thoughts from the survivors. One group says these are the tears of Arizona. The other says each drop is her heartbeat. When the last crew member dies, it will stop leaking. Who would tell them “no.”

Recently, I met two ladies who had family killed on Arizona. One lady lost her uncle. She saw him Thanksgiving 1941. He reported to the ship. He was killed. His mother never believed he died. The phone rang, the doorbell rang. It must be him! It never was. I met another lady at a Memorial Day service. She told me of two cousins. In 1941 one wanted to be a Marine, the other wanted to join the Navy. Each enlisted in 1941. Both were assigned to the Arizona. They were killed on Dec. 7. The boys’ mother was never the same. Her boys will come home.

So, all reading this, take time on Dec. 7 to pay respects. Unlike November 22.

Retired Chief Petty Officer R. A. Rynbrand

Twin Falls