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By Herman Sillas
U.S. political parties go back as far as President George Washington. He was a Federalist Party member and advocated a strong central government. The Democratic Republican Party preferred strong local state government.
In 1800, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr (both Republicans) tied for president. Under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, the House of Representatives would decide who would be President. Alexander Hamilton, founder of the Federalist Party, convinced his colleagues to elect Jefferson. Later, Burr ran for Governor of New York in 1804. Hamilton again thwarted Burr’s efforts. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel and killed him.
Losers have changed since then, but political parties remain. Persons of similar opinions unite to advocate the election of their party’s platform and candidates. The role of parties has been to raise money. Jess Unruh, a former California Democrat leader said, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” Attorney Gene Wyman, a former fundraiser, told me there were three sources of political money. The first is “friendship” money. Candidates’ friends give money and ask nothing in return. The second source is “cause” money. These funds are given seeking commitments from the candidate for the donor’s causes. The third source of funds is “safe” money. The donor doesn’t care who wins and may give to both sides. Only access to the office-holder is sought. Political parties have funneled these monies.
The Republican Party has not occupied the White House for the last eight years, but now controls both the Senate and Congress. Yet the federal budget continues to grow as lobbyists protect their clients’ interests. Republican rank-and-file are frustrated. They voted in Republicans and nothing changed. Politicians lie and do nothing while they continue to receive “cause” and “safe” money. Jess Unruh didn’t believe legislators were obligated to those who give them money. He told legislators, “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze…, take their money and then vote against them, you got no business up here.” Disappointed rank-and-file Republicans viewed voting a waste of time.
There is no specific pathway to the presidency. We have elected all kinds of men to the office. When Donald Trump, a TV celebrity and multi-billionaire businessman, announced his candidacy months ago, most folks thought it was a joke. He sought no money and bragged he would pay his own way. He promised to build a wall between Mexico and the United States and would make Mexico pay for it. He pledged to pick up and return 11 million undocumented Mexican immigrants living in the United States to Mexico, implying that these folks had taken jobs away from citizens. He promised to “make America great again.” His words brought new life to folks who felt like failures. They now had someone to blame for their plight. Trump was also against lobbyists, politicians and incompetent bureaucrats. Crowds cheered.
Traditionalist Republicans panicked. Was Trump to be the party’s candidate? If so, he cut a new pathway to be the party’s nominee. He exposed the flaw in our system. He has followers that have not given him a dime and allegedly won’t be asked to do so in the future. A political party serves no purpose if a candidate uses his own money. Trump has introduced a fourth type of political money: his own. Why would he do that? What role is the party to play? Is the new route Trump used limited to multi-billionaires? Of what value then are Super PACs who are ready to pour in their “cause” and “safe” money? Are these donors relevant any longer?
Jess Unruh was right. “Money is the milk of politics.” The question becomes: does it matter whose milk you use? You better believe it does. That’s the view from the pier.
Herman Sillas is a local attorney and fishes at the San Clemente Pier most Saturday mornings. He is also the author of the award-winning book, “View From The Pier—Stories from San Clemente.” He may be reached at email@example.com.