Money and politics

Weir thinking about it

Did you ever give serious thought to why people run for political office? It can't be for the money because the pay isn't that good. Therefore, it must be the power, right? And what do people do when they achieve power? Well, they can give orders to a lot of underlings and give speeches about their heartfelt concern for the safety, security, and inalienable rights of all citizens. But, also, they can make a lot of money.

I'm not talking about salary; I'm talking about the value of influence. Political power equates to passage of laws; laws affect our freedoms and everything we do in our business and personal lives. Since contributions are the lifeblood of a campaign, candidates need people with money to help them get into office. The question we face is, does a person or a corporation donate thousands, or perhaps millions, to someone's election without expecting a quid pro quo? XYZ Corporation makes several hundred million a year through federal contracts involving computer sales in government buildings across the country. There are other companies that could provide the same equipment and service, so what makes the government select XYZ? A rhetorical question perhaps, but one that stands out like a piece of spinach stuck between your teeth.

The short answer is that companies contribute to a campaign because they believe their values are consistent with those of the candidate. If they happen to be awarded a lucrative contract when their candidate wins, it's merely coincidental. Unless you can get into the mind of the donor or the elected official, you can be merely suspicious.

The Congress is debating the subject of soft money contributions to political parties, and some are calling the donations a form of free speech. It would appear that speech is the only free item in the political marketplace. Can you imagine a poor or middle class person running for president? Surely, there are decent, competent, altruistic people who would make excellent chief executives, even though they are not members of Who's Who in America or CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. Is it a fantasy out of Walter Mitty to believe that one could achieve the White House without a freight car filled with pictures of dead presidents?

Consider that the contest for the lease on 1600 Pennsylvania avenue costs somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 million dollars per candidate, which makes for a very exclusive neighborhood indeed. Furthermore, consider that the job pays 400 grand per annum, up from 200 since Clinton left office. Okay, now let's do some basic math. Two hundred million spent to get a job paying 400 g's means that if you took out a loan to finance your job search, you'd need to work at the job for 500 years and give back your entire salary every year, (gross, not net), and that's not counting any interest on the loan.

So it begs the question, how does the president pay off such a huge bill? Especially since he only has four years in which to do it. Is it cynical to think that he must pay it off by using his influence in ways that give his donors a return on their investment? I don't think so. Rather, I think it's an understanding, if not an appreciation, of how the system works. I'm not saying that a poor man or woman cannot make it to the Oval Office. There are those who started in a humble way, got elected to the town council, then became mayor, state legislator, Attorney General, and Governor before making the leap across the Potomac. However, although one doesn't have to start out with millions in his/her portfolio, the fact is they often end up with a king's ransom. Once again, power attracts money and vice—versa. A smart person will size up the medium they've been thrust into, and make the most of it. You could spend a lifetime fighting the powers that be, but it would be similar to trying to breathe underwater. Before you could develop gills, you'd be floating face down on the surface.

Measures such as the Shays/Meehan bill in the House of Representatives and the McCain/Feingold bill in the Senate didn't go far enough to level the playing field in the campaign finance saga. Not when you have Mike Bloomberg buying the mayoralty in New York for 50 million of his own dollars and John Corzine buying a U.S. Senate seat from New Jersey for 65 mil out of his breast—pocket billfold. Okay, the candidate spending the most money doesn't always win, but there's an undeniable link between money and victory: just look at any campaign fundraising mailer to see that the candidates think so.

The dilemma is thus: if a candidate is worth a billion bucks, he can buy any office he chooses, unless his opponent has enough well—heeled donors to outspend him. The only way to make it fair is to have a pool of resources that are split equally among the contenders, giving them equal time on television, radio, print ads, and any other form of publicity. Then, the voters can decide on the basis of their views, their records, and their looks. Come to think of it, their looks may create an advantage to some. We might want to include an additional fund for plastic surgeons.  

Bob Weir is the editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas

Weir thinking about it

Did you ever give serious thought to why people run for political office? It can't be for the money because the pay isn't that good. Therefore, it must be the power, right? And what do people do when they achieve power? Well, they can give orders to a lot of underlings and give speeches about their heartfelt concern for the safety, security, and inalienable rights of all citizens. But, also, they can make a lot of money.

I'm not talking about salary; I'm talking about the value of influence. Political power equates to passage of laws; laws affect our freedoms and everything we do in our business and personal lives. Since contributions are the lifeblood of a campaign, candidates need people with money to help them get into office. The question we face is, does a person or a corporation donate thousands, or perhaps millions, to someone's election without expecting a quid pro quo? XYZ Corporation makes several hundred million a year through federal contracts involving computer sales in government buildings across the country. There are other companies that could provide the same equipment and service, so what makes the government select XYZ? A rhetorical question perhaps, but one that stands out like a piece of spinach stuck between your teeth.

The short answer is that companies contribute to a campaign because they believe their values are consistent with those of the candidate. If they happen to be awarded a lucrative contract when their candidate wins, it's merely coincidental. Unless you can get into the mind of the donor or the elected official, you can be merely suspicious.

The Congress is debating the subject of soft money contributions to political parties, and some are calling the donations a form of free speech. It would appear that speech is the only free item in the political marketplace. Can you imagine a poor or middle class person running for president? Surely, there are decent, competent, altruistic people who would make excellent chief executives, even though they are not members of Who's Who in America or CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. Is it a fantasy out of Walter Mitty to believe that one could achieve the White House without a freight car filled with pictures of dead presidents?

Consider that the contest for the lease on 1600 Pennsylvania avenue costs somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 million dollars per candidate, which makes for a very exclusive neighborhood indeed. Furthermore, consider that the job pays 400 grand per annum, up from 200 since Clinton left office. Okay, now let's do some basic math. Two hundred million spent to get a job paying 400 g's means that if you took out a loan to finance your job search, you'd need to work at the job for 500 years and give back your entire salary every year, (gross, not net), and that's not counting any interest on the loan.

So it begs the question, how does the president pay off such a huge bill? Especially since he only has four years in which to do it. Is it cynical to think that he must pay it off by using his influence in ways that give his donors a return on their investment? I don't think so. Rather, I think it's an understanding, if not an appreciation, of how the system works. I'm not saying that a poor man or woman cannot make it to the Oval Office. There are those who started in a humble way, got elected to the town council, then became mayor, state legislator, Attorney General, and Governor before making the leap across the Potomac. However, although one doesn't have to start out with millions in his/her portfolio, the fact is they often end up with a king's ransom. Once again, power attracts money and vice—versa. A smart person will size up the medium they've been thrust into, and make the most of it. You could spend a lifetime fighting the powers that be, but it would be similar to trying to breathe underwater. Before you could develop gills, you'd be floating face down on the surface.

Measures such as the Shays/Meehan bill in the House of Representatives and the McCain/Feingold bill in the Senate didn't go far enough to level the playing field in the campaign finance saga. Not when you have Mike Bloomberg buying the mayoralty in New York for 50 million of his own dollars and John Corzine buying a U.S. Senate seat from New Jersey for 65 mil out of his breast—pocket billfold. Okay, the candidate spending the most money doesn't always win, but there's an undeniable link between money and victory: just look at any campaign fundraising mailer to see that the candidates think so.

The dilemma is thus: if a candidate is worth a billion bucks, he can buy any office he chooses, unless his opponent has enough well—heeled donors to outspend him. The only way to make it fair is to have a pool of resources that are split equally among the contenders, giving them equal time on television, radio, print ads, and any other form of publicity. Then, the voters can decide on the basis of their views, their records, and their looks. Come to think of it, their looks may create an advantage to some. We might want to include an additional fund for plastic surgeons.  

Bob Weir is the editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas