That was a saying made famous in my youth from a Congressman busted by the FBI in the “Abscam” investigation. The point was that, in politics, the influence belongs to those with the most money.
Now that’s not totally true. There are many reasons why people in elected office do what they do — pride, principle, polling data. Or just plain contrariness. But, when election season comes around, the money part takes over.
Which brings us to the recent WaPo articles on Democratic fundraising ….
In the past week, the WaPo has published stories about large donations to Gov candidates from defense contractors, i.e. those obtained successfully by Brian Moran (a brother in Congress) and not obtained by Creigh Deeds (no relatives in Congress). The implication is that defense CEO’s making $50,000 donations to a Gov candidate are not overly concerned with state issues, rather they want an earmark from the U.S. Congress.
First of all, it’s worth noting that the Post did not always care about super-size donations from Federal contractors to Virginia politicians with Capitol Hill connections. In 2007, when faced with the same dynamic, the Post said nothing — which just proves the #1 rule at the Post is TOM DAVIS IS ALWAYS RIGHT AND JIM MORAN IS ALWAYS WRONG.
Second, the donors’ response of “how dare you insult our patriotic Virginia defense industry!” is lame. Of course people are trying to gain influence with their donation. It’s not illegal. It’s not even un-American. So save us the fake indignation.
Third, the image of Virginia candidates asking total strangers for $50,000 is disturbing. It really is.
Now, I’ve asked people for some large sums of money in my career. Usually, they were relatives, or had known me many years, and the campaign needed cash. And even then it’s weird. How do you ask someone to give you — in a single meeting — a donation greater than the average annual household income in some counties.
I mean, does anyone really think their ideas are that great?
Here’s the larger problem: The money chase has become the dominant characteristic of Virginia races over the past five years. It’s getting out of control. Candidates are spending all their time on the phone with multi-millionaires. Speeches and public appearances are tailing off. There’s no longer a whistle-stop tour around the state. Now it’s just a dreary existence of “call time.”
We need to bring things back to semi-normal. There needs to be some limit on state donations in Virginia ($10,000? $25,000?) so that there is a ceiling on what a candidate can seek or expect. That way, the donor and the candidate each establish a boundary.
Raising money is important — I’m doing it this spring — but it should not take all the candidate’s time. Honestly, it should be less than 25%. The rest of the time should be spent talking to voters.
These ideas may never pass in Richmond. And the media may continue to report on the money race. But I’ll be the first to say that the currenty system is not right and it’s getting worse.