If you read John Kass' latest piece in the Chicago Trib, you're supposed to feel sorry for the kids of Joe Ricketts', the near-billionaire who tried to put together a $10m campaign to use Rev. Wright to bring down President Obama.
You see, the Ricketts family owns the Chicago Cubs, and the Cubs have just asked the city for a lot of money. And who runs the city of Chicago? The former chief of staff to President Obama, Rahm Emmanuel. Emmanuel, not surprisingly, wasn't feeling terribly friendly to the Ricketts family following the revelation of dad's secret plans regarding Rev. Wright.
Kass argues in the Trib that Emmanuel's use of his office to punish the Cubs is akin to government censorship. Kass also argues that it's unfair to go after the Cubs in any case, since Ricketts' kids run it, not the evil dad.
Yeah, but. While the kids may run the Cubs, it's not entirely clear that dad isn't part owner.
Let’s start with the Cubs. In October 2009, a trust that Joe and Marlene Ricketts established on behalf of their family acquired a 95-percent controlling interest in the Cubs and the team’s home park, Wrigley Field. Tom Ricketts, a son, is team chairman, and Pete Ricketts, Laura Ricketts, and Todd Ricketts (another son) all serve on the board.Getting back to Kass' main point, that this is an infringement of free speech - is it?
Ricketts is still free to spend his $10m smearing the President, no free speech infringement there. But it might affect his business dealings with the city. In other words, Ricketts' involvement in politics might affect his involvement in politics. No surprise there.
But let's take the city out of it. I could imagine some arguing that Emmnuel being "government" might make this case more troublesome. What if Cubs fans boycotted Cubs games because of Ricketts wanting to Swiftboat the President? Would Cubs fans also be infringing, or impinging upon, the Ricketts family's free speech rights? Or would Cubs fans simply be exercising their own free speech rights?
And let's talk a moment about the Ricketts family's free speech. $10 million is a LOT of free speech. One could argue that it's monopoly speech rather than free speech. There's no way someone like your or me could compete in a free and open market with Ricketts' $10m. So is it really "free" speech that Ricketts is exercising when his goal was to use his unique wealth to monopolize the discussion?
This is the problem I have with money in politics in general, and with super huge donors in particular. You can argue, if you like, that small dollar donations are the ultimate in democracy. But is one guy spending $10m really democratizing? Then again, I'm sure that one guy would argue that the other side's big money honchos are already spending their big bucks, so he's simply leveling the playing field.
Again, it feels sometimes like we've really let money corrupt Washington, and our entire political system, far more than any of us may realize.