Follow the Money (and More) to Cut Through the Campaign Rhetoric

The Helena Independent Record recently published an article by Holly K. Michels headlined “In Montana’s US Senate race, expect the gloves to come off and the money to flow.” Ignoring the fact that the gloves already were off during the primary, the report was notable because it quoted several longtime Montanans who were drinking coffee together in a Townsend cafe. They complained about political advertising and survey phone calls, and said they were pretty much done with a campaign season that’s barely begun. And they said they are disillusioned by the massive amount of money in politics. “It’s a rich man’s game,” Curtis Spatzierats was quoted as saying. “A person that’s not rich can’t run for office.”

Actually, a person of  average income can, and does, run for office. But his/her success in getting elected usually boils down to being a successful fund raiser. Whether from political action committees or wealthy donors who support an agenda, donations drive politics. Wealthy candidates just have the extra benefit of their own funds to help pave the way.

How critical it is, then, to follow the money in politics. It’s amazing what you can learn. For example, Sen. Jon Tester touts his Montana roots as putting him more in touch with his constituents. Yet, more than 80% of his campaign money has come from outside the state – from Californians, New Yorkers, and donors inside Washington, D.C. So far, his opponent, Matt Rosendale (who has been criticized as being an outsider, having lived in Montana only 16 years), has raised more than 60% of his donations from out-of-state – Texans, Floridians, Californians.

So the campaign rhetoric about who is a truer Montanan sort of masks other important things, like the candidates’ positions on issues, past voting records, and party-neutral actions that help us, as voters, make choices based on fact … and on the integrity of the candidates themselves.

Knowing candidates’ fund raising sources is clearly not the only or best way to cut through the rhetoric. Another way is to make it our personal responsibility to learn about the candidates’ positions from impartial sources. Click here for several reliable and trusted resources. It takes a little time, but as Marni Edmiston, another cafe coffee drinker, noted:

“If you want to participate in democracy you have to be informed, and to be informed you actually have to do the hard work of critically thinking and listening.

You Decide

Relying on social media or mainstream media for understanding issues or learning about a politician’s/candidate’s position is a waste of precious time and energy. The rhetoric just gets in the way. Here’s a classic example from an excerpt of a Facebook post from a legislator: “Yesterday,  The United States Department of Justice  announced it would start attacking key portions of current health care law that require insurance companies to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions. This reckless decision will raise costs and threaten folks across Montana. Instead of playing political games with our health, Congress and the Administration should be working to make health care more effective, accessible, and affordable.” Immediately, there were the usual responses from this legislator’s supporters praising this statement, and the usual responses from detractors condemning it. Then there was this, posted individually by a member of Montana Decides: “At the risk of bringing facts to the discussion, the DOJ did not announce it would “start attacking” the Affordable Care Act. Instead, the DOJ declined to defend ACA, siding with 19 states who argued that the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions should be invalidated, since the individual mandate that people have insurance or face a tax penalty is now unconstitutional.” A reply to this was quick in coming, asking that this response be corrected because the Affordable Care Act was ruled constitutional. Unfortunately, the entire response asking for a “correction” cannot be included here, since it was removed from Facebook. In its place was the following notation: “Most Relevant is selected, so some replies may have been filtered out.” The response that remained, “most relevant” by Facebook standards, was this: “Please reread my post. I was simply stating what the DOJ decided, using words that were factual. Not inflammatory. There’s a big difference between “start attacking” (inflammatory) and “declined to defend” (factual). I believe Montanans make informed decisions about politicians and legislation when they take responsibility for looking past the inflammatory rhetoric.” While it’s gratifying to see that Facebook deemed the response above “most relevant,” it’s also a little scary that Facebook is “editing” replies seemingly within minutes of the post. But the most disheartening thing about all this is that the intent of the initial reply was overlooked or ignored by the FB-deleted responder. The intent, of course, was to encourage people to look past the inflammatory stuff and, instead, use facts to help understand this legislator’s position. Montana Decides believes it is critical that every voter conducts an integrity check of candidates – is s/he acting on principles, not party line? – and that every voter embraces patriotism, not politics. The facts are easy to find. Get started here. Or you can continue to be swamped by the political rhetoric. Your choice.