As time goes by, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that President Richard Nixon was forced to resign from office – ultimately by his fellow Republicans – because of his corrupt political acts and those of his aides.
For instance, one of the key (and at the time shocking) revelations of the Watergate investigation was that the 1972 Nixon reelection campaign (which came to be known by the highly appropriate moniker of “CREEP”) had employed a “dirty tricks” unit. Led by the infamous Donald Segretti, a small group of Republican loyalists did their worst to spy on perceived opponents and disrupt the campaigns of Democratic candidates by spreading lies and misinformation about concocted sexual misdeeds and other invented transgressions.
Such political dirty tricks – what the Nixon people called “ratf***ing” – were, of course, hardly unprecedented in American politics or the exclusive province of Republicans. Nixon’s predecessor in office, Lyndon Johnson, was a skilled political manipulator of the highest order. Nonetheless, there was a sense in the early 70’s that the Nixonites had taken things to new and dangerous depths that were undermining American democracy.
Oh, that such virtuous attitudes were prevalent in the American body politic today. In the era of Donald Trump, political campaigns and movements don’t just pursue outrageous pranks to disrupt rallies or spread absurd lies about their opponents (think of George W. Bush’s infamous push poll smearing John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary). Today, the political Right openly courts and coerces foreign governments and spends millions of dollars on underhanded schemes to disrupt the campaigns of selected opponents.
Donald Trump’s attempted extortion vis a vis Ukraine is the current poster child for this kind of shameful behavior, but especially in light of the impeachment acquittal last week, it seems sure to be far from the last such example.
One of the latest and more egregious examples of this newly bold brand of dirty tricks has been on display in North Carolina in recent days. As has been reported by the Charlotte Observer and other outlets, a group that is, by all indications, a conservative dark money funder called Faith and Power PAC has recently spent more than $2.4 million in support of Democratic state Senator Erica Smith in her U.S. Senate primary contest with former state Senator Cal Cunningham and three other contestants.
The right-wing money dump appears to be part of an effort to put pressure on or even defeat Cunningham, who has enjoyed the support of the Democratic establishment and who many view as an especially formidable potential opponent for Republican Thom Tillis in November. For her part, Smith has disavowed the ads, but Tillis has been silent and it’s hard to view the scheme as anything other than an example of cynical Trumpian politics at their absolute worst.
Unfortunately, as a recent report from WRAL reporter Travis Fain illustrates, the phony pro-Smith ad scam is far from the only troubling campaign finance news in North Carolina of late.
Contrary to the silly assertions of apologists on the Right about “free speech,” the big money of plutocrats that’s used to buy both politicians and corrupt schemes constitutes a toxic plague on our democracy.
There’s also the ongoing saga involving indicted insurance executive Greg Lindberg and his alleged attempt to bribe state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. The scandal has already resulted in the guilty plea of former state Republican Party chair Robin Hayes and some damning revelations involving Lt. Gov. Dan Forest – most notably that a) Forest is by far the largest recipient of Lindberg cash (more than $2 million in direct and indirect support from Lindberg and his associates) and b) it was Forest’s longtime chief of staff Hal Weatherman who first sought to bring Lindberg and Causey together — a development that was soon followed by Lindberg and his associates making big campaign contributions to Forest.
Meanwhile, Fain’s story also contains the latest confirmation that the outsized campaign accounts of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore are fatter than ever – a fact that allows both men to continue to treat the Republican caucuses in the General Assembly and the policymaking apparatuses they control as personal fiefdoms.
Of course, neither of these latter two items is unprecedented either. Former Democratic Senate leader Marc Basnight used the same technique to wield power in his caucus and former House Democratic Speaker Jim Black went to jail in a bribery scandal.
As they have with political gerrymandering, however, the Republicans of the Trump era make the politicians of bygone years look like amateurs when it comes to raking in huge amounts of cash and blatantly using it to advance their policy and personal agendas. Berger is even shamelessly using campaign funds to buy a personal residence in Raleigh.
The bottom line: Contrary to the silly assertions of apologists on the Right about “free speech,” the big money of plutocrats that’s used to buy both politicians and corrupt schemes constitutes a toxic plague on our democracy. The sooner Congress passes new, Supreme Court-proof laws to rein it in, the better.