Iowa: Field of dreams or challenging corporate power?

Kevin Rutledge on July 14, 2015

Candidates are dreaming to become president in a crowded field.  Iowans are questioning the reality of corporate money corrupting the dreams of Americans.  I had one-on-one conversations with Sen. Rand Paul, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Sen. Lindsey Graham during a two day trip in Sioux City.

Only in Iowa can a person have four one-on-one conversations with four presidential candidates at four different events over two days in the same city and feel a sense of accomplishment, gratitude, and purpose.

As a young Iowan discussing the influence of corporate money in politics with Sen. Rand Paul, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Sen. Lindsey Graham during a trip to Sioux City on July 1-2, I felt the responsibility Iowans have to voice our concerns during personal interactions with candidates before our first-in-the-nation caucus. 

Here are a few quotes from the candidates:

“I think we have to be very careful. You know, we spend more than the next 14 nations combined.”Senator Rand Paul acknowledging excessive Pentagon spending, while walking in a hallway to a press conference after his speech at Morningside College.

“And it’s out of control, the donor class is almost completely in charge of the political class.” – Governor Mike Huckabee recognizing corporate corruption in government and the economy, and calling for transparency in elections.

“Sure, I’ve said the Republican Party cannot be the party of big government. We can’t be the party of big companies either.  So I think we need to be the party for the people.”Governor Bobby Jindal explaining that he’d blow the whistle on private corporations shaping public policy to benefit themselves.

“Cost-plus contracts to be replaced by fixed price contracts. One of the reasons everything costs so much is because there’s no incentive to get it on time and under budget.”Senator Lindsey Graham identifying the lack of accountability and oversight on Pentagon contractors, who drive policy and profit from war.

These four candidates listened respectfully as I approached them one-on-one because I was unable to ask a question during the question-and-answer format.

This coming weekend, Iowa will see 15 presidential candidates touring the state -- 5 Democrats at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame Celebration in Cedar Rapids on Friday, July 17 and 10 Republicans at the 4th Annual Family Leadership Summit in Ames on Saturday, July 18.

Senator Rand Paul

My adventure started with Sen. Rand Paul at Morningside College on Wednesday morning.  I asked him a similar question from April about spending almost $200,000,000,000 on the Pentagon budget in two years and the further impact on the military industrial complex already spending millions influencing elections and lobbying Congress for more contracts. Sen. Paul clarified that his intention is to offset other proposed cuts to show members of Congress that spending almost $200 billion more isn’t realistic here: 

“So what we did was there were two amendments called the side-by-side. One of them was to increase the spending without doing any offsetting cuts. The other that I proposed as an alternative would be that if you really think we have to do that, it should be offset by cuts. My point was to prove that the other side wasn’t really willing to make the cuts. But in reality, that’s not what I proposed for my budgets, but I think it probably is more than we need.”

Gov. Mike Huckabee

Three hours later, Gov. Mike Huckabee and I were discussing corporate cronyism following his speech in a local restaurant. After taking a picture, I asked him, “It seems that giant corporations have unlimited funds and too much insider access to buy Congress. What steps would you take to prevent corporate cronyism from corrupting our government and economy?”

He expressed his support for a fair tax. After I responded that there are still unlimited campaign contributions and lobbying that influence corruption in public policy, he said:

Well, one thing that would help, and it sounds counter intuitive, but the way that we push all these decisions into Super PACs, rather than the campaigns so that you can give unlimited money, corporate or individual, to a PAC.  To a campaign you’re limited.  Let the candidate stand up and say ‘Yeah he [points to person] gave me 10 million dollars, I’m a wholly-owned subsidiary.’ At least it’s honest and up front. It’s hard from a First Amendment standpoint to make too many limitations. The system I agree is out of control. And I don’t have the best answer, I just know that what we’re doing right now is making it worse.”

I responded: “But then if he [points to same person] gives you 10 million dollars, then it’s like, you might do more of what he would say or let’s give him more attention. It probably helps.”

Gov. Huckabee: “It probably would, but everybody would know it so they would be able to connect the dots. Right now you can’t connect the dots because you don’t know where the money is coming from. It’s not ideal, I’m looking for a better answer.”

I felt I was really on a roll out here in the northwest part of the state.  Although I was unable to meet with some local activists during this trip, it was cool to share the next afternoon with my friend Joshua who had no idea we’d have two more opportunities to engage with serious presidential candidates.  I love living in Iowa where it’s easy to suit up, show up, and ask questions to serious presidential candidates.

Gov. Bobby Jindal

The next day, my friend Joshua and I ate Po’boy sandwiches and waited for Gov. Bobby Jindal to stop at our table at a Caribbean restaurant.  As Gov. Jindal was leaving I asked him:

“We should not allow private corporations to determine our governmental policy. I was wondering if you would blow the whistle when you see public policy being shaped for the benefit of private corporations?”

Gov. Jindal said he would, and I responded, “Louisiana, you’ve got some for-profit prisons like Corrections Corporation of America and they have immigrant detention centers. The for-profit prison industry, they spend millions of dollars to influence legislation and policies.”

“Look, I think some criminals need to be locked up longer, especially violent criminals,” Gov. Jindal replied.  “But there are a lot of criminals I think that need to be rehabilitated. And we’ve done a lot of sentencing reforms like first time non-violent drug offenders. I think we need to make the best policy for the people and for taxpayers and that needs to be our goal.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham

Immediately after speaking with Gov. Jindal, we drove to see Sen. Lindsey Graham. We shook hands with Sen. Graham, and I asked him a different version of my Pentagon contractor question I tried asking him in June.

My favorite part of the trip was when Sen. Graham became excited and gave me a fist bump after I told him two of my ancestors, brothers John and Edward Rutledge, who both served as governors of his state, South Carolina, in the 1700’s. John Rutledge signed and helped draft the U.S. Constitution, and Edward Rutledge signed the Declaration of Independence.

“You’re kidding! Oh my goodness! Half the state is named after them. You’re kidding me?!”

We went back-and-forth in conversation. I mentioned how my ancestors and founding fathers of our country would agree with Sen. Graham about overturning the Citizens United decision.

Sen. Graham said, “Y’all are an antidote to big money. The Iowa Caucuses is a check on big money.”

I then tied the influence of big money from the military industrial complex driving policy through campaign donations and lobbying Congress, and asked what he’d do to return power from corporations back to people.

He added, “I would like to fix Citizens United. I mean, I’m not worried about that. I’m a defense guy. I don’t need anybody from Boeing to tell me what to do.”  Check out the full video here:


Kevin Rutledge

Kevin Rutledge AFSC Governing Under the Influence Presidential Campaign Project

Kevin Rutledge is the Grassroots Education Coordinator with AFSC’s Presidential Campaign Project in Iowa.  Kevin has deep family roots in Quaker activism for peace and social justice.  A graduate from Iowa State University in Sociology and Criminal Justice, his previous work includes: United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) organizer, Public Citizen online organizer to overturn Citizens United, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, and a youth residential treatment facility.  Kevin hopes to one day return to Brazil and live by the beach.

“What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” – Napoleon Hill .