Former Vice President Walter Mondale once asked famously of then-Sen. Gary Hart: Where’s the beef?
He sought to smoke out Hart’s position on the issues that were driving the 1984 Democratic Party primary presidential campaign.
These days, though, the former senator is giving us plenty to chew on as he warns of the influence of big money — as in really big money — on the upcoming 2016 campaign for president.
Hart’s target? Former Sen. and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who figures to raise as much as a billion bucks to run for president. Hart doesn’t like that kind of influence. While he expresses admiration and respect for Clinton, he sounds like he’s leaning toward a possible alternative candidate for president — say, Elizabeth Warren or Martin O’Malley.
As Politico reported: “The post-Citizens United campaign finance environment has sullied the presidential process, he said, benefiting establishment politicians who cater to financial backers. He pointed to his own experience, noting that he and his wife mortgaged their home for between $50,000 and $75,000 — an amount that made a significant difference in his first campaign in 1984.”
Ah, yes, Citizens United.
That was the infamous Supreme Court decision that ruled in 2010 that campaign contributors cannot be limited in the amount of money they give. Why, it’s a free speech issue, the court ruled. President Obama then stood in the lectern at a State of the Union speech and scolded the justices as they sat right in front of him for their decision. Although the setting was inappropriate for such a tongue-lashing, the guts of what the president said hold up today: It is that money wields too much influence in the modern political process.
Those who suggest that enabling corporations to give mountains of money to candidates is simply allowing “free speech” do not seem to grasp that some speech is heard more clearly than others. Politicians are going to listen to those who can give huge sums of money more than they’ll listen to you and me.
Is their voice more important than ours?
That’s the kind of influence Sen. Hart is warning us about.
Gary Hart has found the beef.