America or Washington?

Whose side are those presidential candidates on?

The re-making of America from a free-market economy to an influence-peddling, Washington-centered economy is already shaking up the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign.

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On one side: Team Hillary, the Bush Machine, the entrenched Establishment; the massive corporate donors buying access; lobbyists pushing their agenda, with yet more money. On the other side, the Outsiders — a mouthy tycoon, a socialist from Vermont, a world-famous brain surgeon, a female ex-CEO of a Fortune 500 company — oh, and you, the American people.

The news of late is flooded with stories about the cynical game being run by Hillary Clinton and husband Bill with their “charitable foundation.” The tale as told by Peter Schweizer in his book “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill And Hillary Rich,” is at the very heart of the Washington problem.

The book details a foundation that is nothing but a “pay-to-play” influence-peddling funded slush-fund. With the Clintons’ vast influence and real power (she as secretary of state and the odds-on Democratic presidential nominee, he as a globe-trotting ex-president) peddled for bucks. Not just big bucks, but Super Big Bucks. Millions upon millions upon millions — $100 million or more.

But this is not a partisan problem. Schweizer is at work on an investigation into just how former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida has made himself a very rich man. Says Schweizer of a report he intends to have out by September, “We’re following the money.”

Washington’s elites inject the federal government into every crevice and cranny of American life.

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“We’re looking at land deals. We’re looking at an airport deal. We are looking at some of the educational reforms that were instituted, and some of the big corporate winners there, and the flow of funds to foundation,” he said.

In other words, what Schweizer is looking at is influence peddling, Bush-style. Chances are, like the Clinton case, he’ll find it.

Washington’s elites — with both political parties in on the deal — inject the federal government into every crevice and cranny of American life, then hire themselves out for big bucks to those it regulates to serve as guides through the maze of rules and regulations they themselves have created.

Need an example? Let’s take just one state and a handful of players to lay out the revolving door that is the federal government, and to illustrate the incestuous nature of life Inside the Beltway.

In the headlines not long ago was former House Speaker Denis Hastert, with his hush-money scandal. That came after the taxpayer-funded extravagance of disgraced former Rep. Aaron Schock. And then there’s the election of Schock’s successor, Darin LaHood, son of Ray LaHood, a former congressman. All are from Illinois (Motto: Land of the Imprisoned Governors).

Let’s check under the LaHood to see how Schockingly the Washington engine works. But first let’s consider their fellow bigwig, Hastert. Denny, in public service nearly his whole life, allegedly paid out some $3.5 million to a man to keep him quiet over a sexual encounter decades ago while Hastert was a high school teacher and coach.

Where did the money come from? After Hastert left Congress, he went “downtown.” Downtown in Washington tribal lingo means he became a lobbyist — a very, very well-paid peddler of influence.

Schock, meanwhile, who took the House seat of Ray LaHood when LaHood became President Obama’s secretary of transportation, resigned from office after an extravagant spending spree scandal, so Darin LaHood ran for the seat, which his dad used to hold. The elder LaHood left the administration in 2013 after 36 years and also went “downtown,” cashing in at big law firm DLA Piper as a “senior policy adviser.”

To close the loop, the younger LaHood is flooded with campaign cash from Washington lobbyists tied to both parties. All of them all too eager to make sure K Street has its access to the congressman-son of the ex-congressman turned former cabinet secretary dad who is now himself earning big bucks for all that time put in as a lowly public servant. Not surprisingly, he won.

How does this affect the 2016 election? Two years ago, Judicial Watch and Breitbart commissioned a poll on the top concerns Americans had about their government. A full 77 percent said that they were “concerned about the issue of government corruption in Washington, with 52 percent believing it has gotten worse over the past five years.”

All of which puts one question at the center of the 2016 presidential campaign — America or Washington: Whose side are you on?

The other day, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a GOP presidential candidate who has made plenty of enemies in the Senate with his anti-establishment ways, gave a speech on the subject at the Heritage Foundation, labeling all of this the “Washington Cartel.”

Mogul Donald Trump, meanwhile, is surging in the polls, pushing an anti-Washington, all-politicians-are-incompetents message. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is gaining fast in Hillary Clinton, selling an outsider motif (and his socialist ideas). True outsiders Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina also are striking a responsive chord on the campaign trail and are similarly disdained by DC elites.

This is no accident. This is a pattern. And it says something, not necessarily about the candidates, but about the state of mind for most Americans: They’re sick and tired of politics as usual.

What is the 2016 presidential election supposed to be about? Well, you. Average Americans. The moms and dads, the factory workers and small business owners, the waitresses and plumbers and techies and nurses and (yes, still!) the church-goers and more of all races, ages and backgrounds. Americans. Americans who get up every day and make America work.

Put another way, 2016 is well on its way to being about the free-market economy versus the influence-peddling economy — that “Washington Cartel.” The two sides — the first open to everyone, the second open only to the powerful, well-connected Washington politicians-turned-lobbyists who make millions constructing a maze of rules and regulations, then peddling their influence with the rule makers and regulators for insider millions — will battle for supremacy.

All of which puts one question at the center of the 2016 presidential campaign — America or Washington: Whose side are you on?

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