Here's a dollar figure to choke on: $4 million dollars in two contributions to a stealth PAC called "ALL CHILDREN MATTER." Oh. I mean $4 million dollars in two contributions in the last weeks of the 2006 election, with one timed to show up in the last electoral reporting period, and the OTHER two million timed to show up only AFTER the election.
Pretty slick, huh?
Even slicker: the donations came from the hand of a dead man, WAL-MART heir John T. Walton
John T. Walton
AKA John Thomas Walton
Location of death: Jackson Hole, WY
Cause of death: Accident - Airplane
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: World's 11th richest man, 2005
That Jackson Hole residence is an interesting locale, as we shall discuss another time. Meantime, a tightly timed $4 million in the waning days of the election to Betsy DeVos' "All Children Matter" and organization only formed in 2003.
It is a rare thing when the dead lavish so much timely attention on the quick.
Except, I can't for the life of me figure out where the money went ... exactly.
Or, let's frame this in a bigger picture:
I spent several months last year digging up the spiked roots of an interconnected stealth campaign group that the media broadly (and inaccurately) termed "Howard Rich."
The Center for Public Integrity has noted in two important and, sadly, ignored journalistic coups* that Howard Rich himself donated very little to the organizations whose putative head he was, including but not limited to, US Term Limits, Americans for Limited Government (which sponsored and syndicated brother-in-law Paul Jacob's radio commentary "Common Sense" until recently), Club For Growth, State Action; Fund For Democracy, and, seemingly, America At Its Best and Colorado At Its Best. Oh yes, and LEAD, and the former LEAD Foundation, now the Parents In Charge Foundation, which, coincidentally, the living John T. Walton gave $2 million to in 2001, as well.
[*see end for URL]
And, The Center for Public Integrity found, in financial disclosure documents that 99% of ALG's funding had come from three unnamed individuals.
Was one of them John T. Walton, deceased?
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Besides, we're really looking at "All Children Matter," anyway. Sandlapper has written two very good investigative pieces on ACM's activities in Wisconsin*. (*see end for URLs)
But, before I confuse you even further, I want you to imagine a day care facility. It's a big nursery, and there are 50 playpens of varying size. In each playpen, there's usually just one baby who cries loudly enough for the day care nurses to hear. There are other babies, but the number varies from playpen to playpen.
(It's a pretty noisy facility, to be sure, originally thrown together in a hurry, but it's stood the test of time, and generations have been happy with it).
There's plenty of space between the playpens, and so each playpen is in its own little bubble, rarely paying much attention to the squalling in the next playpen.
Now imagine it's in a big facility, with plenty of plants and sunshine, and shade. It has that general kind of din that you'd hear at an indoor public swimming pool.
One day, a group of sneaky individuals decide to steal plush stuffed pseudo-animals from the inhabitants of the daycare center.
(They would try to steal candy, but wisely consider the public relations hazard, if caught, too great a risk).
Because of the isolation of the different playpens, the cat burglars move from playpen to playpen, sometimes noticed by the "loud" screamer, but never loud enough to attract the attention of the attendants on the far northeast wall of the day care center.
The best playpens have a "screamer" who gets in a nice bite on the fingers of the teddy-bear thieves, but overall, they manage to get in, grab some and get out, essentially unnoticed.
Naturally, those playpens in the furthest western reaches of the daycare center are the most isolated and easiest to burgle, so the thieves concentrate there, with some success.
And in playpen after playpen, the teddy-bears disappear to a steadily-rising chorus of unheard cries.
All right. That's more or less what was faced in the last election: stealth financing and political machines operating at a greater-than-state but less-than-national level, all-but-ignored by the media. (Whose "prestige" and "trustworthiness" ratings in polling have fallen - and justly so! -- to historic lows).
That is the nature of our national politics right now, and it is a big part of what is broken. Increasingly, the "foundations" and "PACs" and 527s, and endless organizations operate in the gray area between the national press and the local media, between the federal government and the state governments.
I mean, good Lord, the sitting governors of three separate Western states challenged Howie Rich to come to their states and explain why he was funneling cash in, and the newspapers in SEVERAL noted who this was (albeit in the shorthand of a lone scapegoat). The governors of virtually every Western State that Howie & Friends were pushing initiatives in came out against them - even The Governator of California, A. Schwarzenegger. Still, the "national" press remained torpid.
And state by state, the "in-state" media invariably suffered from a severe macular degeneration that just exactly coincided with the state line: if it happened ten feet over the state line, they didn't SEE it! In football, we call that "seams in the zone."
Just look at what happened in a local judicial race in Missouri when the zillionaires behind Howie Rich had him dump $100,000 into the race in the last minute. ($100,000 is chickenfeed to this bunch.)Some in-state coverage, a couple million dollars' worth of intimidation, and nary a peep in the national press.
[Hell, in the Missouri press, nobody ever noticed that the Rich operative in Missouri, Patrick Tuohey, was not only a recent transplant to St. Louis from Washington, D.C., but had been, prior to his Missourification, GOP Pollster Frank Luntz's right hand man. You know, the fellow who came up with "Death Tax" as a way of selling abolition of the Estate Tax for multimillionaires?]
Now, we observe a similar organization, and massive, overwhelming funding by a dead patron, and we have to ask ourselves: Do the dead really get that much say in our politics?
Well, if they're properly and stealthily represented, I guess they do.
Believe me, I live in Oregon, the lone state in the Union in which it is legal for the dead to vote in, and I've been living with it for a long time now.
You see, we have a "Homer Simpson" law: over 50% of the registered voters have to show up for any bond issue or tax levy measure to pass. Whether you agree with this or not, it is a fact that the slow manner in which the dead are purged from the voter rolls means that the dead can lawfully vote in Oregon, albeit only "no."
But the case of John T. Walton is more insidious, since it emanates, according to WikiPedia
Just before his death, Walton was estimated to be worth US$18.2 billion by Forbes magazine, and he was tied with his brother Jim as the 4th richest person in the United States  and 11th-richest person in the world.
John T. Walton died an early death in the crash of a homemade 'ultralight' in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But his hand reaches out from the grave to dictate how the states should educate their children.
Is that state conducive to union? And why are the identities of the shadowy donors who funded at least 35 initiatives this past election anonymous, legally? We do not allow this kind of anonymous speech in elections. Why do we allow this kind of anonymous cash?
Giga-Kudos to the Center for Public Integrity and to Bill Hogan for their important investigative series. I'm a fan. They've done a hell of a good job, even if the timing of the most damning piece so far (Dec. 21) didn't receive much play in the Christmas/New Year's news cycle. Nonetheless, great journalism is great journalism, no matter what the timing - feeble and pointless smears by Howie's operatives notwithstanding.Three Big Donors Bankrolled Americans for Limited Government in 2005
AndWho's Bankrolling the Initiatives?
It forces us to re-examine the "Howie Rich" affair in an entirely different light. But, for the moment, let's focus on "All Children Matter," Betsy DeVos, the late John T. Walton, and how millions are sluiced through that grey area between federal and state campaign finance regulations. But, rest assured, the two affairs are more than casually related. Causally, too.
More importantly, we need to see how we can get our teddy bears back.
Next: How ACM money is funneled into Virginia, and thence to Virginia, and thence back OUT to the states, while the salaried administrative staff and physical offices are in Wisconsin. Here's some background material.
Sandlapper's two columns:My coverage of ACM last fall
(scroll down to "John T. Walton" there's a detailed accounting of ACM's contributors)
Did I mention that the DeVos family runs AMWAY?