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Sen. Alan Simpson rails against money in politics

At 84, former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo) isn’t ready to sit on the sidelines of national or local politics.

After 18 years in the U.S. Senate (1979-1997), Simpson stayed close to the political arena and is now a precinct committeeman for the Wyoming GOP. He also is a member of the ReFormers’ Caucus — a bipartisan group of former members of Congress and governors working to reduce the influence of money in politics.

“My dad always taught me, if you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, then do,” Simpson said. “Instead of bitching, get in the game.”

Simpson spoke with WyoFile recently about the allure of Donald Trump and the crippling grip of money in politics — what he calls a cancer on American democracy. Here are a few highlights from the discussion:

WyoFile: What is the ReFormers’ Caucus?

Simpson: It’s just a group of, you know, Republicans and Democrats — guys who have been in Congress and know the horror of what’s happening with money in politics and how it’s just a cancer. … The little guy who is going to (donate $5 or $10) to either party is saying ‘what the hell? I saw the other day somebody gave $10 million, then another bunch gave $5 (million)’ and they don’t know who they are. They say ‘Well, that’s got to be corruption.’ To them that’s all that shows, it’s not even access. They think that people are on the take, and it’s very disturbing.

WyoFile: What does the caucus aim to do about it?

Simpson: There are several ways to go, you know, a Constitutional amendment bill — there are several of us working on that. … You can overturn it, and you can do that by legislation. But you know you’re not going to get that done when you have — I mean, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell isn’t for any kind of — any kind of limitation, ever. I mean, I voted for McCain-Feingold clear back down the road when I was in the Senate, and Mitch, he fights it tooth and nail. He feels very strongly, and as long as he’s the leader it won’t get done legislatively.

WyoFile: Does that mean the Democrats have to take control of the Senate to reform money in politics?

Simpson: No, it’s just people who are disgusted from both parties, and that’s what the hell the reformers are — they’re not Democrats or all Republicans. It’s a pretty good blend. All of us have felt the sting of having to raise the bucks, having to waste the time, having to beg and scrap and get out there — and be careful of sticking this bill in or the AARP will tear you up. Or the NRA will tear you up. Or the teachers will tear you up. Or the cowboys will tear you up. Sure. How do you think it works?

WyoFile: Do you think the Senate should give an up or down vote on a U.S. Supreme Court nominee by President Obama?

Simpson: The President should submit a name and then the [Senate] Judiciary Committee under [Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck] Grassley can decide what to do with it. But let him put the name in, and if they say we’re just not going to have any hearings during an election year I can tell you that is not an abnormal procedure. Good grief, I was on the committee for 18 years and you got into that last year of the presidency we said ‘The hell with it … we’ll bring it up, but we don’t have to put it on the floor or consider it in committee. But just to ignore the fact and say to the President don’t bother to send us one, I think that is not appropriate. … [President Obama] won’t pick a total left-wing screwball. He’ll pick a guy that will make the Republicans scratch their heads, for a little while.

WyoFile: To what extent does money influence Wyoming politics?

Simpson: I don’t know. I was a lost sheep when I was in the State Legislature. I tried to pass disclosure laws. I didn’t get very far at all because … ‘Wait a minute, we’re Wyoming, we all know what everybody’s doing.’ Well, let me tell you, I’ll buy the drinks if that’s the truth. I mean there were guys sitting in that Legislature who own stock in the Union Pacific and trucking companies and railroads and oil. Hell, you didn’t know who the hell they were. Some of them, they listed their business in the little pamphlet as to who is on the floor of the House or Senate, but let me tell you I saw enough conflict there to last forever.

WyoFile: You endorsed U.S. House candidate Liz Cheney, would you advise that she doesn’t take super PAC money?

Simpson: I don’t know what she takes. I’ve not found out. All I know, Ann and I gave her a check. I have no idea. I’ve known [Liz Cheney] since she was 8 years old, and I got into a situation the last time she ran [against incumbent U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi] … And now that’s resolved and all is well. And I have great respect for her, and Dick and Lynne, and all this. There’s no breach there. … Ask her what she does with PAC money or whatever.

WyoFile: What should voters know about money in politics and campaigns?

Simpson: As long as you know where it’s coming from — all you have to do is get honest, and if a guy gives $10 million … who is he? What the hell did he do? What are his businesses? What’s he up to? … If you just had that you’d be way ahead of the game. … I can tell you one thing about [presidential candidate Donald] Trump. I … have no idea where we’re going on this, but I’ll tell you one thing; the basic reason people support Trump, when you get out in the country, and I do, is that, quote, ‘He ain’t on the take. He isn’t beholden to anybody.’ … Anybody missing that is just out to lunch. And don’t think it doesn’t mean something to people when they say, ‘I’m voting for him because he don’t take no money from anybody, and he dishes it out without somebody filtering it.’

WyoFile: But Donald Trump does accept campaign donations.

Simpson: Well sure, they all take money. I’m just saying that’s the image. Everything in politics is perception. There is no reality in politics, I ought to know. I was this or that, and the perception was this — you couldn’t overcome it with facts. The perception is that good ol’ Mr. D. Donald is clean as a hound’s tooth because he doesn’t take money from anybody. It doesn’t matter if he’s loaning it to his campaign, giving it back, whatever the hell the rig is.

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Energy and policy reporter Dustin Bleizeffer recently completed a John S. Knight Journalism fellowship at Stanford University. He has covered energy and natural resource issues in Wyoming for 18 years. Follow Dustin on Twitter @DBleizeffer

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12 Responses to Sen. Alan Simpson rails against money in politics

  1. Jack Speight March 18, 2016 at 3:20 pm #

    Big Al is Spot On about all issues. Glad at 84 he still is engaged & speaking out.

    Cheyenne, Wyoming

  2. Joe Kelley March 18, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

    Always nice to hear what Senator Simpson has to say. However, I feel he is in error re Liz Cheney. She is only running in Wy. because she sees it as an easier way to get to Washington than running in Virginia. The idea that she has any Wyoming “values” is a real stretch.

    worland, Wyoming

  3. Bonnie Brown Koeln March 16, 2016 at 5:38 pm #

    I love reading about Sen. Simpson. He’s a smart man, and we were lucky to have him representing us in Washington. However,times – and mores – have changed, unfortunately for the worse, and money now rules.

    We have to do everything possible to get Citizens United overturned. Fast! And the only chance for that is to elect Democrats to the Presidency, to the Senate, and to the House.

    And sorry, Al, you’re just plain wrong about Liz Cheney. She is not worthy of Wyoming. As a State, we are so much better than that!

    Jackson, Wyoming

  4. David Nelsen March 16, 2016 at 9:05 am #

    The gist of Simpson’s conversation tells of the role of MONEY in politics. Payolla. Super pacs etc. The ONLY logical deduction is follow the money. Special interest. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.


    Politics is the same shape as foreign affairs. A mess and embarrassment. Money runs the world, not the guy in the voting booth.

    Homer, Alaska

  5. Ted Lapis March 15, 2016 at 10:56 am #

    Too much money in politics + not enough demand = problems for the Federal Reserve Cartel. Deflation is showing up as negative interest rates continue to proliferate. The wealthy got the money & the power they wanted, but as David Stockman told President Reagan on the way to the ‘woodshed’, supply side economics is “voodoo economics.”

    Simple solutions for complex problems led by slogans of “individual responsibility” produced empty mental institutions, and homeless people on the streets of America. Many of those people warehouses were terribly run institutes of neglect, but people did not freeze under the bridges or get carbon monoxide poisoning in their cars.

    We are the richest, most power country in the world. We can feed, shelter, clothe and defend ourselves. Can we help people to be healthy? Can we really afford to have a population of vulnerable people that provides a reservoir for contagious disease?

    Enlightened self-interest has given way to demigods proclaiming simple answers. Can “final solutions” be far behind?

    Sheridan, Wyoming

  6. ken casner March 15, 2016 at 10:42 am #

    Al Simpson is correct the facts cannot over turn the public perceptions. The money given to candidates is in fact given for laws driven by the private interest of those donating, like the railroad, and trucking interest. However people today are now becoming more aware of the perceptions through the largest communication networks in technology. Misinformation and disinformation thrive in this format, and transparency on factual information, becomes critical or does it?

    Time for a change is diverted by these facts for change: cupidity; (the desire for wealth), boredom, sloppiness, and indifference; not the acts of a mighty, all-pervading , repressive government, but the failure of a listless public to make use of the freedom that is its birthright, a quot from Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

    Whether we like this article from Al Simpson, he has been there and done that and when he said to break perceptions you and I have to get involved for it is our birthright and you don’t need money to vote. What we all need is the facts to see the perceptions in making the choices that will be passed on to the future of our children, and prepare are children when they hold the keys for their children birthright.

    There is no free ride for Freedom and facts revel the perceptions for each individual to either call false or true. The truth is when you step into the voting booth and act upon your individual birthright.

    Elk Mountain, Wyoming

  7. Jim Phillips March 15, 2016 at 10:34 am #

    I always found Mr. Simpson entertaining even when I disagreed with him. Unfortunately the state of politics today is about hatred, not compromise. With the rise of the tea party, the old republican right looks more sensible every day.

    Newcastle, Wyoming

  8. Darlene Reiter March 15, 2016 at 9:49 am #

    Sorry, but Al Simpson’s 180 endorsement of Liz Cheney smacks of moneyed politics.

    Sheridan, Wyoming

  9. Mike Weber March 15, 2016 at 8:55 am #

    The word that comes to mind when Sen. Simpson says of Liz Cheney that he has no idea of what she takes is “disingenuous”. We saw Air Force II parked at the Jackson airport while VP Cheney was running donors in and out of town in someone’s private jet for up close gatherings. It would help us believe the Senator’s really committed to transparency if he asked some focused questions and shared some honest answers.

    Sheridan, Wyoming

  10. Keith Collins March 15, 2016 at 7:55 am #

    I see that people are still listening to what old Al says. If you want to know what he really thinks you have to watch what he DOES.

    Cody, Wyoming

  11. Tim White March 15, 2016 at 6:58 am #

    If Al Simpson ran for president today, I would be out pounding yard signs for him. Wait! There’s still Cleveland…!!!!!

    Cody, Wyoming

  12. Richard Sloat March 15, 2016 at 6:12 am #

    It is good to see the old guard still has integrity as Simpson does. The everything Obama does is wrong mentality of the present GOP not only disparages Obama but the Presidency as well, and hurts our Nation. Washington is definitely a place where moneyed interests rule by buying access and influence from our politicians who are supposed to work for the People of the USA. Time for a change!

    My political satire, entitled “Washington Money Talk”, is on YouTube. Here is the link; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etPwzJvhxyI

    New York, New York

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