Steel magnate Henry Clay Frick could not have been more clear about his dashed expectations after he invested in Theodore Roosevelt in the 1904 elections. Although they were leery about the renegade, trust-busting Republican Roosevelt, Frick, J.P. Morgan, George Jay Gould and other magnates of the era underwrote his reelection campaign hoping to curb the Rough Rider's anti-monopoly enthusiasms.
Once elected, though, Roosevelt continued his campaign to bust up the trusts, prompting Frick to grumble, "We bought the son of a bitch, and then he did not stay bought."
Apparently, it was rare enough for a politician to turn on those who bought him to make the history books.
That's just a reminder about why it's a good thing that Kentucky is one of 22 states joining Montana in asserting states' rights to make laws governing corporate campaign contributions.
The states are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to ignore the pleas of a private interest group and let stand a ruling by the Montana Supreme Court upholding that state's campaign finance laws.
This particular case is drawing a huge amount of attention because it's the first time the Supreme Court has been asked to reconsider its 2010 Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate and individual giving to political campaigns and causes. At the very least, the states want the court to limit the application of the decision to federal elections and allow states to regulate their own elections.
The private interest group is arguing that Montana's state laws conflict with the Citizens United decision and should be struck down.
In its decision upholding the act, the state court felt it was essential to recap the specific history that led to Montana's Corrupt Practices Act, first passed in 1911. The early 20th century was "marked by rough contests for political and economic domination ... between mining and industrial enterprises controlled by foreign trusts or corporations," the decision recounts. It went on to tell how the copper mining Anaconda Company "controlled 90% of the press in the state and a majority of the legislature." Citing a number of state histories, the justices remark, "Examples of well-financed corruption abound."
Likewise in Kentucky, University of Kentucky historian Ron Eller talks about corruption as one of the structural problems that come with coal. Even today, the most casual observer can see that few politicians are willing to take on King Coal, that well-funded, rapacious lord with a long memory.
But an even more troubling consequence of Citizens United has been the rise of super-pacs providing essentially unlimited funding from often one wealthy individual pushing his own candidate and agenda. That was not just seen in the GOP presidential primary, but in Kentucky's 4th congressional district, where the nomination of Thomas H. Massie was due in large part to financing from a Texas college student with an inherited fortune.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer, who both dissented on Citizens United, have expressed hope that the Montana case could give the court reason for reconsideration.
Ginsburg said, "in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates' allegiance" the court should have the opportunity to explore whether the law "should continue to hold sway."
The attorneys general understand that money can sway both elections and elected officials, a concern voiced by former Justice John Paul Stevens in his dissent to the Citizens United opinion.
Stevens, who retired shortly after the Citizens United decision, warned: "The Court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation."