Even after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s unexpected 9-minute public statement made a few weeks ago, many layers remain unrevealed from what will undoubtedly continue to be an endless peeling back of this special investigative onion — and in the end, no camp will be left standing outside its pungent aroma.
As I said months ago, regardless of how you feel about our current president, his election and subsequent endless controversies — while polarizing many Americans — have also forced us to engage with our government and its policies more than we have since the 1960s and 70s.
Whether or not you believe the president willingly or unwittingly colluded or obstructed, I do want to believe that the dozen indictments Mueller has handed down over the course of the last two years will force us to take a hard look at just how ineffective and corrupt our political system has become — regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on.
And while Russia’s influence campaign unquestionably played a role in the 2016 elections, it merely recognized a weakness in our system we have been unwilling to admit or change: A dependency on campaign funding from special interests, both financially and fundamentally.
In the 2004 general election, 95 percent of House races and 91 percent of Senate races were won by candidates who spent the most on their campaigns.
This has only become more prevalent since 2010, when the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision began allowing unlimited spending by corporations, unions and “individuals” in elections — spawning Super PACS (Political Action Committees) that routinely raise hundreds of millions of dollars for candidates by holding events hosted by special interests, lobbyists and others hoping to benefit from influencing future legislation.
Tucked within the 2016 election were Russian special interests, beginning with Mueller’s very first indictment in April 2018, when Dutch national Alex van der Zwaan was indicted for — and eventually pleaded guilty to — lying to federal agents about his contacts with Trump campaign deputy chair Rick Gates in September 2016.
In addition to his contacts with Gates, van der Zwaan was also connected to Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian business associate of Manafort’s with ties to Russian intelligence officials.
Though accusations of collusion, manipulation, money laundering, false statements and conspiracy are still being investigated through individual branches stemming from Mueller’s report, they are merely symptoms of a political plaque that has been building in the arteries of our government for decades — and now threatens the very heartbeat of our democracy.
The special counsel’s report could prove to be one of the most important in our nation’s history, providing a diagnosis of what we need to know rather than what we want to know.
Only then can we begin to address the kinds of reforms needed to assure that the heart of our political system beats for its people rather than the pocketbooks of special interests at home and abroad.
Write to Cottage Grove Sentinel Managing Editor Ned Hickson at [email protected]