Is Right Up There with the Worst Oligarchs in American History. To understand the present, you have to understand the past, which brings us to the story of William A. Clark. Clark was one of the so-called Montana "Copper Kings" of the 1800's. After making millions in the booming mining industry, and trying his hand in the electric, newspaper, banking, and railroad industries, Clark set his sights on political office. Clark had always had a lifelong ambition of becoming an elected official, and of achieving the fame and power that came with it. In 1899, Clark made a serious push to become a U.S. senator from Montana. Back then, U.S. senators were chosen by their respective state legislators. So one afternoon Clark walked into the Montana State Legislature, and announced that he would be standing in the back of the room, holding envelopes filled with thousand-dollar bills. He said he'd give those envelopes to anyone who voted for him. Enough legislators voted for him.
Enough legislators voted for him. Enough legislators voted for him and took his money that Montana sent him to Washington, D.C. as their senator for the 1900 legislative session. But Clark's bribery scheme was so public and brazen that even the largely corrupt U.S. Senate was horrified. They refused to seat him after reading newspaper stories about his passing out thousand-dollar bills to get elected. And it was the notoriety of Clark's naked bribery attempt in Montana, well reported in newspapers across the country, that helped lead to the passage of the 17th Amendment, which says that U.S. senators are elected by the people instead of by state legislatures. With all this notoriety, Clark quickly became public enemy number one in the early 1900's. Speaking about Clark, Mark Twain once wrote that, "He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag, he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a chain and ball on his legs."While William A. Clark may have died back in 1925, his willingness to corrupt the American democracy and political process is alive and well today. Just ask the Koch Brothers. Charles and David Koch, worth a combined estimated $68 billion in net worth, are among the driving forces behind the corruption of our democracy. Between 1998 and 2008, Koch brother-controlled foundations gave more than $196 million to organizations that favor polices that would further pad the wallets of the two brothers. In that same time period, Koch Industries, owned by the two brothers, spent $50 million on lobbying and handed out $8 million in PAC contributions. The Kochs are also behind groups like Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, which both gave and continue to give major financial support for the Tea Party movement. And Freedom Partners, a Koch-affiliated organization, has doled out grants worth over $230 million to a variety of conservative organizations, Tea Party groups, and front-groups that oppose Obamacare. This brings us to the Keystone XL pipeline. Recently, the Koch Brothers have been throwing their billions at lobbyists, front-groups, and lawmakers that support the fossil fuel industry and the construction of the Keystone KL pipeline.