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Wednesday, 30 April 2014 07:12

With Unlimited Financial Campaign Contributions, One Robber Baron Can Control a State

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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amissourMissouri State Capitol (Photo: JeromeG111)If you want to see how just one Wall Street robber baron can squash democracy for the sake of greed and privatization, just look to the Missouri legislature.

According to The Progressive magazine, that's where Rex Sinquefield, a man who made his fortune off of trading in index funds, is spending millions of dollars to forward his personal agenda. Sinquefield has combined personal political giving with backing nonprofit organizations, much like the Koch brothers have done on the national level. The Progressive notes: "Sinquefield and his wife spent more than $28 million in disclosed donations in state elections since 2007, plus nearly $2 million more in disclosed donations in federal elections since 2006, for a total of at least $30 million."

That total does not include the indirect millions spent backing third-party organizations, as The Progressive details:

The jewel in [Sinquefield's] privatization crown is the Missouri-based Show-Me Institute, a rightwing think tank that receives just shy of $1 million every year from the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation. Its tag line is a mouthful: "Advancing Liberty with Responsibility by Promoting Market Solutions for Missouri Public Policy."

Rex Sinquefield is the institute's president, and his daughter is also employed there (and spends her time tweeting rightwing talking points). The institute is currently led by Brenda Talent, the wife of former U.S. Senator Jim Talent.

For years, the institute has been laying the groundwork for radical changes to Missouri's education system, producing reports, testimony, and policy papers purporting to show the benefits of ending teacher tenure and enacting vouchers in the form of "tuition tax credits," along with other efforts to privatize education and undermine teachers' unions.

Although Sinquefield's major goal has been an attack on municipal and state income taxes (proposing to replace them with a regressive sales tax and taxes on services that include daycare), he is also one of the pirates of privilege leading the effort to crush public schools. The end result would be privatization of education, with for-profit companies sure to make a bundle off of what is the most basic service of a democracy: building the foundation of an informed citizenry.

In comments documented by The Progressive, Sinquefield offered a glimpse into his bizarre and perverse thoughts on public education:

"I hope I don't offend anyone," Sinquefield said at a 2012 lecture caught on tape. "There was a published column by a man named Ralph Voss who was a former judge in Missouri," Sinquefield continued, in response to a question about ending teacher tenure. "[Voss] said, ‘A long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we really hurt the African American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public school system.' "

The ongoing removal of campaign financing limits by the Supreme Court is the fuel that propels one person with extreme fringe thinking to be able to, in essence, buy a state government.

It is important to remember two contextual factors that also enable a Wall Street "master of the universe" such as Sinquefield to make himself the decisive influencer in a state with a population of around six million people. First, the internal workings of state legislatures are generally not followed closely by the media, particularly in cases such as Missouri where the state capital - Jefferson City - is some distance (about 130 miles) from the state's largest media market, St. Louis. Second, we live in an age when voters are heavily influenced by ads broadcast on television and reinforced by right-wing media. The propaganda memes, financed by big money, often replace the facts, in terms of public policy outcomes.

When the private purse effectively controls the public purse, democracy is undermined. The Progressive quotes Missouri's most noted historical figure:

Harry Truman, Missouri's favorite son, once observed: "Wall Street, with its ability to control all the wealth of the nation and to hire the best law brains in the country, has not produced some statesmen, some men who could see the dangers of bigness and of the concentration of the control of wealth. . . . They are still using the best law brains to serve greed and self-interest. People can stand only so much, and one of these days there will be a settlement."

The question to ask in response to Harry Truman's statement is the same one being raised about global warming: Have we already crossed the threshold, passing beyond the possibility of a positive outcome?

One thing is certain, however: There is no time for being demoralized. The only potential path to restoring an informed participatory democracy is resistance to a corporate state.

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