Mark Hanna, a wealthy Ohio industrialist, while managing the winning campaign of President William McKinley, put such a heavy arm on his corporate colleagues that McKinley’s campaign outraised and outspent Democrat William Jennings Bryan by more than 10-to-one.

Mark Shields

Mark Shields

Hanna knew whereof he spoke when he concluded: “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”

Extended stretches of my own youth and early middle age were spent happily, if not entirely triumphantly, working on political campaigns — which raised and spent many millions of dollars — in 38 states and Venezuela.

Raising money politically turned me into an anti-Calvinist — convinced that God gave money to the least thoughtful and least appealing of her creatures. You have no idea how degrading it can be to fake interest while being subjected to some wealthy buffoon’s nutty theory on how agnostics are conspiring to take over the world of polo or pork-belly futures.

Hanna would have loved the 2010 campaign, in which — thanks to a truly bizarre ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year — interest groups have raised and spent unlimited sums from corporations and wealthy individuals without ever disclosing who gave a million or a grand. In the past 38 years in U.S. politics, because of campaign reform laws we went from incomplete and very fuzzy disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures to nearly full disclosure. Thanks to the John Roberts court, we are headed to a politics of no-disclosure.

Just consider what is happening in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District (Davenport, Dubuque, Waterloo), where Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, who received 65 percent of the vote in 2008, was favored to win a third term in the House of Representatives. But that was before the American Future Fund, a 501(c)(4) group that can collect unlimited millions of dollars and is not required to disclose any of its donors, indicated it would spend at least $800,000 on TV and in direct-mail advertising attacking Braley’s record.

What if some of the charges the group levels against Braley are inaccurate and untrue? Sorry, there is no personal or institutional accountability. There is no place to register your complaints — just a mailbox at a UPS outlet.

Braley is a formidable candidate, and he may well withstand the high-priced assaults from the anonymous, deep-pocketed interests. But some previously “safe” congressional incumbent will not be able to answer and rebut a million dollars in anonymous attack ads — and that, I can promise you, will have a profound impact on Congress.

The first reaction of virtually every member of Congress will be: In order to prevent this ever happening to me, I will have to raise a campaign war chest at least twice as big as this year’s. Washington will see an explosion in fundraising, which, because the contributions will come from those with their own explicit agendas, will mean increased partisan polarization and further legislative gridlock.

Political courage, always scarce, will be depleted. Public officials will be even more scared about confronting the special privileges and abuses of any powerful interests with the potential or inclination to write a six- or seven-figure check to a group that doesn’t have to disclose the contribution.

It’s reasonable to assume that much of the money being given to these so-called independent groups (which fund Republicans over Democrats by nine-to-one) is from wealthy individuals who want to preserve their significantly reduced tax rates from the President George W. Bush era and to eliminate the inheritance tax on their personal fortunes.

“I think what we ought to do is we ought to have full disclosure, full disclosure of all of the money that we raise and how it is spent. And I think that sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Thus did House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Meet the Press in February 2007, state the then-near-unanimous Republican principle of full, immediate disclosure — which now has been abandoned in the rabid money-chase for unreported millions.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.