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#Presidential Campaign: Noblesse Oblige in the 21st Century

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | February 12, 2016

WashingtonNo. 1,245

Summary:  Trump’s self-funded campaign does not insure against contributor’s influence because Trump has the cause and effect equation backwards.

George Washington, whom we celebrate this President’s Day, was once reputed to be the wealthiest man in America.  If so, his wealth consisted almost entirely in non-fungible frontier land, including a large swath of it in Western Pennsylvania.

He and most of the founding fathers served during the Revolution and the early days of the Republic without pay. This was the practical consequence of the inability of the pre-constitutional central government to levy taxes. But it also reflected the ideal of public service in Athenian Democracy and the Roman Republic, which Washington’s contemporaries read about in Plutarch’s Lives. Franklin and others advocated public service without pay at the Constitutional Convention, a proposal that was rightly rejected.

While many of the founding fathers endured severe financial sacrifice in order to serve, some of them couldn’t afford it — or barely could.  Washington complained in his diary about the burden of feeding an endless procession of house guests at Mt. Vernon.  Jefferson was pressed into near bankruptcy, with Congress providing a measure of relief by purchasing his library to found the Library of Congress.

Today, nearly all of the 2016  presidential candidates could easily serve eight years without drawing a government pay check. Forbes Magazine indicates that most have a net worth in the millions and, of course,one in the billions. 

But a candidate who is so rich that he does not need to raise campaign funds is a novelty. Donald Trump says that he is not beholden to special interests, since he doesn’t accept their money. So far, he has had a free ride on this preposterous statement. Does this guaranty some kind of non-partisanship or impartiality in government?

Hardly.   Mr. Trump has loudly declared his position on certain issues, such as immigration, trade, gun control and terrorist organizations.  The positions that he has expressed are anything but nonpartisan.  If he were accepting contributions, the interest groups who will benefit by his policy preferences would want to help to assure his re-election.  In other words, Trump has reversed the cause and effect of political influence.  In most cases, the candidate becomes known for certain policy preferences and contributors donate to help their political allies get elected. The candidate doesn’t change his position in response to contributions, the contributors help elect the candidates whose declared positions they favor.




CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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