For the past several months, the political dialogue has been focused on the involvement of Russian operatives in the American democratic processes. Whether or not American politicians were involved in collusion has been the primary point of inquiry.
Those who have suspected evil have talked liberally about these Russian activities undermining democracy. The Russians have been brilliant by applying their tactics to America's great weakness - an electorate that is gullible because it lacks a context for most political decisions it is required to make.
As long as social media remains a major source of citizen input, large numbers of Americans will be vulnerable to manipulation by the Russians. And it looks like there will be no turning back and misinformation will be the fodder of the day.
While we have been focused on collusion with the Russians, another threat has become more apparent as the presidential campaigns roll out with more campaign money than any time in history.
In past campaigns, campaign money seemed to have stabilized. Republicans seemed to have the edge in big pockets while the Democrats stumbled behind. This has changed.
As each of the Democratic presidential aspirants has announced their intentions, their viability has been measured largely by the big bucks they are bringing to the scene. Instead of carrying debts from previous campaigns, they are reporting millions in assets.
While the familiar faces are drawing the most, even the unknown are coming forward with millions. With 20 some Democratic candidates already piling up $75 million, we have to voice a suspicion and ask: "Where is all of this money coming from? Is somebody selling public policy?"
Republicans will spend their usual amounts to protect the "haves" from the policies of the "have-nots." But the Democrats seem to have new money that must come from somewhere so we wonder who the new players at the table will be when the last gambler folds. Will they change the American agenda?
With both parties spending more in 2020, the Republicans will increase their traditional fundraising but not as much as the Democrats.
The man with the most, Bernie Sanders was, is and always will be is a champion of economic justice. We all know what his agenda is. In 2020, it will be more of the same despite becoming an accidental millionaire.
While our political system requires mass approval of change, the chorus of 20 presidential candidates will set a tone for the 2020 campaign but they will not control the agenda.
So how will big money undermine democracy? To boil it down, democracy requires us to value the worth of human character while money values the power of resources. Money usually wins.
With money, we can circumvent character; this was clearly demonstrated in bribery scandals to enroll low-performing rich kids ahead of character-rich poor kids in upscale colleges. The scandals proved that some students graduating from reputable schools are not smarter than other students, just richer.
Another source of new money in political campaigns is the availability of millions in a booming economy, producing more disposable income than ever before. So even though we have met our demands for more materialism, we still have money left over to cast about. Political spending will be one of the beneficiaries of disposable income.
Social scientists have spent years of study, trying to find the impact of money on public policy. Until this connection can be made, we will never know the degree to which money may be distorting democratic values.
Lloyd Omdahl is a former professor at UND and state lieutenant governor.