Dialing for dollars in The Swamp

Published 8:02 am Wednesday, May 16, 2018

It is estimated that Hillary Rodham Clinton spent $2 billion in her failed bid for the presidency.

Money spent on political campaigns seems to increase each year. The 2018 race for the governorship of Illinois, a job that pays $177,142 per year, will likely pit billionaire Jay Robert Pritzker against incumbent Bruce Rauner, who’s only worth a paltry few hundred million. So far, Pritzker has donated $56 million to his campaign. The piker Rauner has only given his campaign $50 million. All this to govern Illinois, a state headed for self-inflicted financial oblivion because of government employee pensions.

The Illinois race is going to be expensive but probably will not exceed the $244 million spent on the 2010 California governor’s race by former Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown.

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It is estimated that the average cost of a political campaign to win a Congressional seat will be about $10 million this year. The most expensive Congressional race in history took place last June in the suburbs of Atlanta, when Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel spent $55 million for a job with a base pay of $174,000 per year.

CBS correspondent Norah O’Donnell aired a piece on April 24, 2016, entitled “Are Members of Congress Becoming Telemarketers?” Two Republican and one Democrat Congressmen went on the record to say that their parties instructed them, along with all new members, to spend 30 hours a week in a call center near the Capitol cold-calling constituents and others to raise their “quota” of $18,000 per day.

Many Congressmen arrive in D.C. from their districts late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, then depart the Capitol on Thursday evening to return to their districts. What do they do in their districts? Much of their time is used to raise money or schmooze wealthy constituents.

It follows that among the qualities the Democrat and Republican parties look for now in prospective candidates for their primaries, one of the most important seems to be whether the individual is good at raising money.

Is there any wonder so little gets done in The Swamp?

For those who are already wealthy when they enter politics, the motivation to endure the pressures of a high-profile Congressional position may be altruistic, but it’s no doubt that ego and being in the public limelight is part of the draw as well.

For those of modest means, it has to be encouraging that many Congressmen who start out their political careers with a modest net worth end up multi-millionaires. They certainly don’t accumulate wealth on their $174,000 salary because D.C. is an expensive place to live. Then there’s the cost of maintaining a domicile in their home district.

So, how do they get rich? Many leave Congress to become part of the Political-Legal-Lobbyist Complex centered in Washington. And once they’re an insider, they never leave D.C.

A freshman Congressman arrives and is immediately immersed in a culture where D.C. lawyers, lobbyists, union representatives and business people have money, or represent interests with lots of money. A newbie Representative, with a proper committee assignment, becomes an important person to members of the Complex and their monied interests. They meet former politicians who have amassed fortunes during or after long careers in politics.

And the longer the official stays in office, the better the chances of getting rich. Hence the polestar for most politicians in the U.S., from municipal officials to the august halls of the U. S. Senate:

“Will my vote on this issue win me votes or cost me votes at election time?”

Michael Henry writes in Oxford and can be reached at mhenryauthor@gmail.com.