Thursday, May 31, McMorris Rodgers held a town hall in Pullman, WA. In spite of its middle-of-a-work-day timing (3-4PM) and minimal advertising (a Facebook post the prior Saturday and a posting in an obscure corner of her website), about forty people attended. She experienced some stiff questioning but stuck to her now familiar talking points.
McMorris Rodgers must feel her seat in jeopardy and time is short, so she must make the most of a trip like this. A poorly advertised hour long town hall will add to the tally she will later tout as evidence of her constituent outreach. Overheard in the hall was reference to McMorris Rodgers’ un-advertised visit to a Pullman company, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) SEL a far more important constituent of McMorris Rodgers and the Republican/Libertarian Party than the forty people at the town hall.
Why? It is going to cost a lot of money for McMorris Rodgers to try to keep her seat in the upcoming election. The money directly under her control, the Cathy McMorris Rodgers For Congress coffer, will not cover it. She will need major backing from the Republican national apparatus. Thanks to concerted efforts by the Republican/Libertarian machine to subvert campaign finance law, extremely wealthy donors are much freer to fill the national coffers than they were prior to 2010 and Citizens United. The flow of a lot of that money is opaque to us (through “non-profits”), but, thanks to remnants of campaign finance law that have so far survived from the early 1970s, we still have a small window through which to see how it all works.
Why look at McMorris Rodgers and her visit to Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL)? The founder, technically a Schweitzer “employee,” and, probably, a holder of a large portion of the “employee ownership,” Edmund O. Schweitzer III, happens to share his name with his company. That fact makes personal campaign contributions easier to associate with the company. Furthermore, unlike many in the Koch donor group, Mr. Schweitzer and his wife choose to make at least some of their political contributions to candidates and PACs whose donors must be disclosed on the Federal Elections Commission website to comply with still extant campaign finance law.
On December 19, 2017, Mr. Schweitzer and his wife wrote checks totaling $594,600, all to various Republican interests you can see by clicking the link. Is it a coincidence that the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act the same day? You tell me. Of course, we have no way of knowing the net worth or annual income of the Schweitzers, but the financial benefit to them from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act must have been substantial. They have been major Republican contributors for many election cycles, but their donations usually have come earlier in the year. Were they withholding their contributions contingent on passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act?
The Republican/Libertarian legal attack on campaign finance law removed the cap on total political donations a wealthy person can give. (See McCutcheon v. FEC, 2014) At least so far, though, they have not succeeded in trashing some important remnants of campaign finance law from the 1970s. As a bizarre result the mega-rich can only only give $5400 per person per election cycle directly to the candidate ($2700 for the Primary and $2700 for the General Election, $10,800 grand total for a couple like the Schweitzers). The record of the Schweitzers’ contributions at FEC.gov shows that, although $320,800 of the $594,800 flowed through entities attached to McMorris Rodgers’ name (CMR, Cathy), only $10,800 went to her personal campaign coffer, Cathy McMorris Rodgers for Congress, the only one she directly controls.
Think about that for a moment. Since Citizens United in 2010 and its subsequent well-orchestrated kin, the Republican Party apparatus has been able to consolidate far more monetary power at the top, while candidates remain limited, currying favor with the national machine by appealing to the big donors in their districts, but able to keep only a small part of the proceeds under their own control. It should come as no surprise that Republican Congresspeople toe the Republican Party line unless they are secure in a gerrymandered voting district. (To be sure, Democrats do this, too. They have no choice. The Republicans used the courts to change the rules in favor of the Party with the wealthier donors…themselves.)
So as McMorris Rodgers visits Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories hat in hand she is begging for only a relative pittance that can accrue to her personal campaign fund ($10,800)…and a massive cash infusion for the Republican/Libertarian Party. The vast Party apparatus will use that money to further its agenda of deregulation, privatization, tax cuts for the rich, cuts to “entitlements,” and mind-bending propaganda and gerrymandering to keep the whole enterprise on track.
What is McMorris Rodgers role here? I imagine she is sincere about her positions and her rhetoric. She has lasted this long because she is actually convinced of the righteousness of the Republican/Libertarian credo AND she projects warmth, sincerity, and motherliness to her constituents. With so much money sloshing around at the top of the Republican Party and relatively little in individual campaign coffers it is no surprise there are very few mavericks among Republican members of the House. Any hint of individual thought or lack of fealty and in two years such a maverick will be weeded out by a well-funded challenger from the right more dedicated to the party line. This is how McMorris Rodgers can sincerely tear up about the plight of the Dreamers, claim she is fighting for them, refuse to sign the discharge petition, and concoct a bill that won’t offer them eventual citizenship, while using the excuse she will work only on a bill that has a chance to become law. (One might ask her to explain, then, why she votes session after session for gun and abortion legislation, repeals of the Affordable Care Act and bills like the REINS Act and the Balanced Budget Amendment that have no chance in the Senate.)
She may hold a sparsely advertised town hall, but Cathy’s trip to Pullman was more to worship at a local shrine of the Republican/Libertarian wealth machine.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories is a part of small family dynasty. Edmund O. Schweitzer III is the son of Edmund O. Schweitzer, Jr. who founded E. O. Schweitzer Manufacturing in 1949. The original Edmund O. Schweitzer, was a co-founder of S&C Electric in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Do you suppose the recent near doubling of the estate tax exemption from 5.5 million to 11.12 million (part of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”) further enriched this dynasty? Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories is in many ways a benign example of private enterprise (far more benign than the fossil fuel industry, for instance). I pick on it here only as a traceable example of the corrosiveness of money in politics.
P.P.S. It seems likely the Schweitzers are major Republican donors based on traditional Republican fiscal prudence and “free market” advocacy. It is unlikely they are passionate about free access to guns, limiting gay marriage, limiting access to birth control or abortion, keeping transgender students in the “right” bathroom, or deporting the Dreamers. Nonetheless, their money will push these issues in order to keep the Republican/Libertarians in power to further dismantle campaign finance law, reduce any and all regulation, privatize and limit social programs, and generally enrich Ayn Rand’s captains of industry.
P.P.P.S. I am not aware of any national Republican efforts to remove the $2700/person/election cap on campaign contributions to individual candidates. Is that because they’ve run out of legal tricks or is it because the national party is happy with the money, and therefore the power, at the top?