Under the Influence? The Ethics and Optics of Obscene Speaking Fees

Chris Matthews, and others less hostile, but apparently as morally clueless as he pretends to be, appear to be having a hard time understanding why Hillary Clinton's obscenely high speaking fees are a very bad thing. Apparently, the test for Chris Matthews -- picking up where Dana Bash left off in the Democratic debate -- is whether or not one is able to point to a specific decision by HRC that was influenced by her speaking fees.

This is a complete red herring. And it has begun to stink.

It is common knowledge that members of the House and Senate are supposed to subscribe to the code of ethics of the legislative body they belong to. They are certainly not allowed to accept gifts of significant value. The Senate Code stipulates that senators may accept gifts valued at less than $50, with a cumulative value of not more than $100 from one source in a calendar year. In fact, the 63-page Code lays out in great detail an entire range of gifts from perishable food items to concert tickets, and travel and hospitality that senators may or may not accept.

It's not just the act of doing something under the influence, but the perception that one may be under the influence, however subtle, that undermines faith in government.

Does that perception magically disappear the minute one stops being a senator but remains very much in the public eye? When one continues to be -- as HRC was for the past two years -- the subject of intense interest as a likely presidential candidate, and as she continued to be coy about her plans when asked?

The media needs to stop this charade that they do not understand the issue of the speaking fees. It does not even matter if the speeches she refuses to release are as interesting and as free of surprises as cold porridge. She could have collected her fee for reciting Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, for all that matters. What she said is less relevant than the fact that she was willing to appear when summoned to the citadels of corporate power, and be rewarded with hundreds of thousands of dollars for the appearance.

The voter struggling to make ends meet with two minimum wage jobs looks at that and can be forgiven for not being able to make sense of the outlandish level of pay for much less than a day's work.

Wall Street obviously did not think it foolish to pay HRC nearly a quarter of a million dollars. But HRC should at least ask herself if, in accepting those unseemly sums, she has come perilously close to squandering the trust voters need to feel they can place in her judgment as they cast their ballots. When there is so much ease and comfort with tired old bad practices, when there is so much coziness with Big Money, how much hope can Democratic voters have in this candidate's promise of making things new?

Fortunately, the Sanders campaign is already remaking the Democratic Party. The campaign is holding out the promise of a revitalized democracy, free of the pernicious influence of Big Money.

Will the Democratic Party be smart enough to seize the moment? Will voters come out in large enough numbers to make it happen?