In 42 B.C., Latin writer Publius Syrus wrote, "Money alone sets all the world in motion."
In the 1976 film All the President's Men, Deep Throat advised reporters investigating President Richard Nixon to "follow the money."
The intervening two millennia have provided plenty of quotes, and even more examples, of why the public really should be able to follow the money in politics. It does indeed set the world in motion and, in a democracy, we do have an interest in who is paying to spin the political orb.
Unless you're Sen. Mitch McConnell, minority leader of the U.S. Senate and one of the most effective money men in the history of this country's politics.
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McConnell, in an op-ed published last week in The Washington Post, followed admirably circuitous reasoning to use the scandal involving the IRS targeting Tea Party groups as a launching point for an argument that landed on limiting public information about political contributors.
McConnell's target was what he terms "the so-called Disclose Act," a measure that was introduced and died in 2010 as a response to the floodgates of corporate money opened up by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that same year. Briefly, the act would prohibit corporations with significant foreign ownership from contributing to U.S. campaigns, give the public access to information about corporate and interest-group campaign expenditures, and require large organizations that made political ads to disclose their membership.
The murky millions flowing through — what the heck, we'll use the term, too — so-called grass-roots groups since Citizens United has inspired some to talk about reviving the Disclose Act.
McConnell is having none of it. "These tactics are straight out of the left-wing playbook. Expose your opponents to public view, release the liberal thugs and hope the public pressure or unwanted attention scares them from supporting causes you oppose."
It's a comment that insults both the intelligence of the public and the resolve of those giving the money.
Not to mention the irony of McConnell's implication that only "liberal thugs" would use such tactics,
There are good reasons why McConnell has already raised $13.5 million for his re-election bid next year, and Democrats are loath to run against him even though 34 percent of Kentucky voters say they plan to vote against McConnell — fully twice as many who say they'll vote for him.
There are even better reasons for Congress to write laws that ensure we know who is paying for the messages that bombard us. This is a democracy; it's our government. Show us the money that sets it all in motion, and tell us where it comes from.