For today's report, I have a bunch of statistics for you. Wait — don't run away! Where are you going? Come back here and sit still while I drill these stats into your head! It'll be fun, and you'll learn something.
I realize that numbers can numb the brain, but this is a good story, and I promise that these statistics are easy to absorb. In fact, the number 400 pretty much sums up this story of political intrigue and corruption involving some of America's wealthiest families and corporations.
Let's start with the "Billionaire 400", a clique of the elite organized by the conniving Koch brothers. These ultra-rich right-wingers gather each winter in some warm-weather resort for a secretive, invitation-only retreat. There, they plot strategies and pledge money for electing politicos who'll support their vision of corporate rule in America. For the 2016 elections, they've already committed nearly a billion dollars to impose their vision of plutocracy over our democratic ideals — double the combined amount that the Republican and Democratic parties will spend. I wonder: what do they think they're getting for that price?
Then there are the secretive super PACs that are sacking-up tens of millions of dollars to back various presidential candidates. Again, a few hundred corporations and rich families — each writing checks for hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars — have put up nearly half of all the money in these electioneering committees.
Keep that 400 number in mind when I offer my sincerest congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Middle-Class America, since they are all the rage in this present presidential contest, for Jeb, Hillary, and all the rest — even The Donald — say their campaigns are all about the hurting middle class that hasn't yet recovered from the Great Recession.
Well, don't look now, but after each one promises that they'll do the most for the Great Mass of the Middle Class, they disappear into the shadows and scurry off to schmooze with the little group of Americans they truly love: The exclusive club of multimillionaires and billionaires, who are shoveling those big bucks into those campaign pockets.
Now, back to our statistics: Jeb Bush got a million dollars each from 26 of his super PAC backers; Hillary Clinton took a million each from nine funders; of the $16 million in Marco Rubio's PAC, 78 percent came from only four donors; and Ted Cruz got the most from the fewest, taking practically all of his $37 million from just three fat-cat families.
So while candidates for the highest office in our land are soaking up applause for the grand rhetoric they're giving to the middle class, they're also quietly sacking up millions of dollars by pledging their steadfast fealty to the ruling class. Donating millions is not an innocent or noble political transaction. Written on the backs of each of their checks is their own corporate agenda, trumping the people's agenda.
Ironically, it's Donnie Trump, the bombastic billionaire, who candidly admits that these so-called "gifts" amount to the outright, plutocratic purchase of politicians. He's long been a campaign donor in order to secure political favors, he confesses, and it works: "When I need something from them ... they are there for me." There's a word for that: corruption.
But now, here comes the antidote to this corruption of our politics by fat cats. Instead of being financed by 400 special interests, Bernie Sanders' campaign has raised its $15 million (as of July) from over 400,000 ordinary Americans. In fact, the average donation to Bernie is a heartwarming, soul-saving $31.30!
You can't buy a president for just over 30 bucks — but you can help elect one who isn't owned by Big Money. And isn't that the way democracy ought to be?
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)