The dark chocolate menace

Larry Van GuilderEar to the Ground

On Jan. 21, 2010, P.C. (pre-Covid), the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in “Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission.” Overturning lower court decisions, the Supremes said corporations could not be banned from making political contributions.

Thus was the flow of so-called “dark money” into campaigns given a significant boost. Unfortunately, the courts have not addressed an issue potentially as corrupting as dark money: “dark chocolate.”

Although we pride ourselves at Knox TN Today on keeping a watchful eye on all things political, only recently did we discover this menace to electoral integrity. The vehicle for further undermining our faith in the political process is the innocuously named “silent auction.”

Chuck Severance

Case in point: Chuck Severance, Republican candidate for Knox County Commission District 7.

Severance has received in-kind contributions to his campaign valued at $7,082.98 according to his latest campaign financial disclosure statement. Not surprisingly, one of the items donated was a “cookie basket” from a self-employed Knoxville baker.

The description is vague enough that it could mean a basket of cookies or a basket for carrying cookies. We believe the $36 value recorded on the in-kind contribution list is for chocolate chip cookies, the variety favored by politicians, campaign workers and Holiday Inn Express lobbies.

A Powell baker chipped in a “Vol Cake” valued at $45. There is also a contribution valued at $75 for a “cake plate/scale.” Coincidence? Ha!

Following fruitless bargaining with USA Today, the Washington Post and other print media, the astute candidate realizes the difficulty of bartering for ads with cookies and cakes and seizes upon the silent auction as a means of raising funds.

And delectable cakes and cookies weren’t the only valuables donated to the Severance campaign’s silent auction. The haul included books, gift cards, jewelry, cosmetics, vacation rentals, golf lessons and even two ¼-page ads in a weekly newspaper.

Severance said that the auction netted much less than the listed value of the items. He said he followed campaign finance laws in reporting everything he received from the silent auction. (He logged auction items as “in-kind” contributions but blended donors who purchased items with regular contributors.)

We have no reason to doubt the truth of that statement, but we do wonder what might happen when someone with more flexible scruples than Severance uses the silent auction to raise funds.

For example, Ima Phelon launches her race for governor by holding a silent auction. Phelon receives four dozen chocolate chip pecan cookies but reports only three dozen on her financial disclosure form. The “dirty dozen” cookies wind up at a private party, and no one is the wiser!

There are movements afoot to thwart the impact of dark chocolate on our elections. One group has enlisted a celebrity to speak on their behalf at rallies across the nation. With permission, we quote him below:

“Cookies are for monsters – not politicians!”    – Cookie Monster

Well said, C.M.

Larry Van Guilder is a former editor, reporter and columnist for Knox TN Today. He is returning after a lengthy absence.

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