Can candidates courting billionaires count as corruption, even if there are no explicit strings attached?
Some activists see the campaign contributions of the super-rich as a problem, regardless of whether “quid pro quo” deals are made.
Here, activists protest the political influence of the wealthy Koch Brothers near David Koch’s Manhattan apartment on June 5, 2014.
The presidential hopefuls haven’t spent much time so far with voters. Instead, they’ve committed many days to courting the millionaires and billionaires who can fuel a White House bid.
And at the same time, activists on the left and right are seeking to redefine political corruption, which they believe this is.
Americans for Prosperity Foundation Chairman David Koch speaks in Orlando, Fla., in August 2013.
Koch Brothers Put Price Tag On 2016: $889 Million
One prime example:
The political network of brothers David and Charles Koch
— with pledges of nearly $900 million
— seems to bedazzle prospective Republican candidates.
In a recent conference call sponsored by the Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity, presidential candidate and Florida senator Marco Rubio was asked about a possible endorsement by the brothers.
“I have tremendous admiration for what the Koch family and their networking does, espousing the issues of limited government, free enterprise, liberty and opportunity for all, so would love to earn their support, of course.”
This kind of play for the blessing of billionaires used to be over the line between politics-as-usual and corruption.
In 1976, announcing the Supreme Court’s landmark Buckley v. Valeo decision, Chief Justice Warren Burger set this standard for corruption:
“the reality & appearance of improper influence stemming from the dependence of candidates on large campaign contributions.”
The current chief justice, John Roberts, had led an effort to tighten that broad language. Roberts, delivering the McCutcheon v. FEC ruling last year, defined corruption as “a contribution to a particular candidate in exchange for his agreeing to do a particular act within his official duties.”
He was describing a quid pro quo –
the donor’s money in explicit exchange for the politician’s official favor. It’s a felony.