Former Vice President Al Gore decried the increased "crassness" of the American political system before joking that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is a symptom of that political culture as he criticized the significance of money in politics.
"It's spiraled downward --- the crassness with which the quid pro quo at the heart of the occasion are made openly visible --- that crassness has grown as well," Gore said at the Brookings Institution on Friday morning, in reference to the politicians who raise "special interest" money.
"And over time, those who are drawn to participate in such a culture have changed. Many men and women who I wish were in politics aren't in politics now. And why would they be? And some that I surely wish were not in politics are speaking for long stretches of time," Gore said. Cruz spoke on the Senate floor for 21 hours Monday and Tuesday as he pushed for colleagues to use the continuing resolution to defund Obamacare.
The Washington Examiner's Tim Carney has done a lot of good reporting on special interests giving to candidates and the quid pro quo arrangements that can arise from those relationships. Still, it's odd to see Gore raise the issue and suggest that Cruz --- who raised money during his Senate campaign from grassroots Tea Party sources, rather than the K Street lobbyists who contributed to his opponent --- as a sign of the problem. Even if you believe that the 21-hour "filibuster" was about fundraising rather than a sincere legislative effort, that fundraising pitch was still geared towards the grassroots base of the Republican Party.
And when it comes to coziness between special interests and politicians, Gore spent eight years living in a glass White House. He made fundraising phone calls from his White House office. Is that legal?
"It shall be unlawful for an individual who is an officer or employee of the Federal Government, including the President, Vice President, and Members of Congress, to solicit or receive a donation of money or other thing of value in connection with a Federal, State, or local election, while in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by an officer or employee of the United States, from any person," the U.S. Code says.
Gore maintained at the time that "there was no controlling legal authority or case that says there was any violation of law whatsoever," which is sort of true insofar as he did not go to jail for three years as the law demands.
Still, Gore's contention that the crassness of special interests exchanging money for access to political leaders who can help their businesses is increasingly blatant.
Just last week, The New Republic reported on the "messier aspects" of the Clinton Global Initiative. "Bill Clinton now leads a sprawling philanthropic empire like no other," according to TNR's Alec Macgillis. "There's an undertow of transactionalism in the glittering annual dinners, the fixation on celebrity, and a certain contingent of donors whose charitable contributions and business interests occupy an uncomfortable proximity."