The Founder’s Folio is an editorial series for Delaware Live by Founder and DE Entrepreneur and Family Businessman Chris L. Kenny. You can visit his website and blog at chrislkenny.com
Our political season is in full swing. We are bombarded daily with political ads, breaking news and trending topics. Our national media platforms court sponsors to fill their 30-second commercial slots, selling them on their massive audiences who are tuned in eating the popcorn. In turn, candidates spend exorbitant amounts of money to communicate their side of the story and to compete for the control of the narrative. To fund these complex campaigns requires significant resources, and to have any shot at any level of office—whether it be local, state or federal—you have two choices: compete for what you feel is right in the competition of ideas that is our Democracy or step aside.
“How did we get to this point in American Politics?” Many ask. When did money equate to influence in politics? How did money become so intricately involved in politics? Has it always been this way?
The answer that may be surprising to some is quite actually yes. Since the beginning of our nation, money and its influence have consistently played a role in the workings and foundational building blocks of American Government.
The merits of money in politics have so too been debated from the very beginning. As the details of our Constitution were deliberated in 1787 Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin questioned money’s influence in politics. He was concerned about Greed and how greediness could steer decision-making. His concern was one of ethics and morality and is a question we should all ask ourselves anytime money is involved in a situation. Benjamin Franklin was a thoughtful, musing philosopher who could see both sides of the coin. When he started the Leather Apron Club in Philadelphia, a business and networking club that met regularly to discuss how to work together for mutual benefit, he saw how money and influence could be essential tools for the positive advancement of local city and community.
The correlation between having strong resources and success in politics goes back to our first President. George Washington’s Presidential campaign was funded in large part by getting voters liquored up on rum punch with a healthy side of his famous ginger cakes. Then while in office, the focus on productive industry and a strong economy became a key component of his administration. Backing his Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s strategy to provide capital and financial stability to promising businesses, merchants and manufacturers, President George Washington realized from the beginning how to best use money and influence in politics to ensure the success and long-term stability of the country.
Then Andrew Jackson fought with the banks and their elite backers who spent thousands pushing the President as a dictator before the next election. He fought fire with fire on a campaign that remarked it takes money to fight the rich. To fight for what you believe in, you’ve got to find the means.
Perhaps our great President Abraham Lincoln would not have won the uphill 1864 election were it not for contributions from thousands of businesses who supported and worked with the government. Later even the great President Theodore Roosevelt, a champion of the common man much like Franklin, realized the need for campaign funding from wealthy donors to win the presidency.
The second half of the twentieth century saw the explosion of radio and tv media, and the playing field where influence is an important key to political success remained the same but on a larger scale with greater reach. Now as we make our way through the new digital age of social media, we must continue to discuss how to best use our influence in advocating for policies and leaders we feel are truly the right choice.
We should keep these questions on our minds as we try to make our community as best as it can be. Are we keeping integrity in the process? Is there transparency in the chain of influence? When capital is pushing disingenuous, false claims is when we should be concerned. But when truth and facts are promoted however, that’s our democracy at its healthiest. An informed republic is one that makes the best collective decisions. When leaders and influencers practice transparency in their actions, they keep the public in the know, so that they can exercise their rights, too.
So as we turn on our TVs and scroll our feeds, let’s continue to push the conversation of influence and capital in politics. Keeping an honest conversation going will keep our leaders on their toes and ensure that they are listening to us. These discussions help hold our leaders accountable. It forces them to keep the common people in mind as the political fabric of our Democracy is shaped.