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Past leaders’ views on campaign financing

To President Theodore Roosevelt, America owes the set-aside of many public lands to assure access to them, in perpetuity, for ordinary citizens, as of early conservation-minded protections for water, wildlife and others of the nation’s natural resources.
Without regulatory management it had become starkly evident, Roosevelt stated in 1907, that “the public domain is skinned by men whose only concern is to get what they can out of it at the moment, without any regard to whether or not it is ruined so far as the next generation is concerned.”
He would learn that instituting environmental and public-welfare protections would draw fierce opposition from “trusts,” with unceasing and “venomous” attack upon the government.
In remarkable clairvoyance of methods and extent of opposition to the administration in office now, a century later, Roosevelt wrote: “The attacks by [some] great corporations on the Administration have been given a wide circulation throughout the country, in the newspapers and otherwise, by those writers and speakers who, consciously or unconsciously, act as the representatives of predatory wealth. Their endeavor is to overthrow and discredit all who honestly administer the law, to prevent any additional legislation which would check and restrain them and to secure if possible a freedom from all restraint which will permit every unscrupulous wrong-doer to do what he wishes unchecked provided he has enough money.”
Voting and wise choice in elections is “a fundamental and necessary right and duty” of citizens, Roosevelt urged, if government is to function on behalf of all the people. It will be necessary and well in this regard, he added, “to provide that corporations should not contribute to presidential or national election campaigns, and furthermore to provide for the publication” of contributions, expenditures, and donors’ identity.
A U.S. Senator for whom a TVA reservoir is named, George W. Norris, lashed out against unrestraint growth in private election-campaign financing.
“The moral conscience of the nation was deeply shocked,” he wrote in January 1927, to learn that several millions of dollars had been expended in two state primaries, “to obtain nominations for candidates for the United States Senate.” Expenditure of such huge sums for seats in the Congress cannot be justified, Norris felt, “unless we desire to turn over that great legislative body to the muti-millionaires of the country who are willing to buy legislation the same as though it were merchandise sold for cash to those who are willing to pay the price.”
He anticipated efforts to attain national office would become “impossible for any citizen of the United States” and, much the worse, that the Senate and other Congress members would become “a club of the tools and slaves of multimillionaires.”
A century of legal precedent was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in January. Hundreds of millions have since come forth from undisclosed corporate donors, to re-make the Congress, as Roosevelt and Norris predicted and citizens might fear, as a “club of tools” to serve the donors’ mercenary interests.