IN OUR DEMOCRACY, the first Tuesday in November is supposed to be an election. Unfortunately, it is turning into an auction, with government for sale to the highest bidders. Powerful interest groups buy clout with big campaign contributions.
Recently, the billionaire owner of the Minnesota Vikings persuaded the Minnesota legislature to build a new stadium with public funds. It was an enormous gift: It works out to a $72 taxpayer subsidy for every ticket, to every game, for the next 30 years!
This huge subsidy passed with votes from legislators of both parties, despite strong public opposition. Along with a multimillion lobbying campaign over the past decade, the Vikings owner, Zygi Wilf, with his family and lobbyists, contributed thousands of dollars to the Republican legislative caucuses and the Republican gubernatorial and legislative candidates.
They also contributed thousands of dollars to the Democratic legislative caucuses and the Democratic gubernatorial and legislative candidates. Why would they give to both parties and even to candidates running against each other? They say it is because their interests are bipartisan. Perhaps this might be more appropriately spelled “buy-partisan,” since they were trying to buy favor with both parties.
Did those contributions make a difference? Imagine what would happen if Wilf tried the same strategy to get his way at an NFL game and made $1,000 or $1,500 “contributions” to each of the referees before the next Vikings-Packers game. The NFL would kick Wilf and his team off the field and fire the officials without waiting for proof that the money affected the officiating. The conflict of interest is obvious.
Yet in politics, Wilf’s conflict of interest didn’t raise any eyebrows. Insiders are so accustomed to the practice that it doesn’t even cross their minds that there might be a problem.