Kadner: Hard times are good for politicians
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org March 23, 2013 12:47AM
Cook County Commissioner William Beavers speaks after being found guilty on all counts at the Everett M. Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday, March 21, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 25, 2013 7:07AM
Why do people give you money?
That’s a question I’ve been asking political candidates for years, and the answer I get sounds a lot like the one you might receive from a little child who is asked why Santa Claus brings him gifts.
Instead of “because I’m good,” the politicians’ version is “because people want good government.”
Cook County Commissioner William Beavers (D-Chicago), convicted last week of federal income tax fraud, used political contributions to gamble at casinos.
Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who pleaded guilty recently to similar charges, used his political contributions to buy stuffed elk heads, dine at expensive restaurants and buy a luxury watch and mink capes, among other things.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a wise man worth more than $1 billion, decided to cut out the middle man and spent $2 million this winter to buy himself a congresswoman, Robin Kelly.
Kelly, who’s expected to easily win Jackson’s former congressional seat in April, would insist that she is her own person.
Bloomberg contends that he merely supported her through his political action committee because she’s anti-gun and so is he.
There’s nothing illegal about Bloomberg investing $2 million in Kelly. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it’s every wealthy person’s constitutional right to enter the market for congressmen.
And it wasn’t illegal for Beavers to spend $100,000 or more trying his luck at the slots at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond. He crossed the line when he failed to report as income the money transferred from campaign funds into his personal accounts.
In addition to spending money on fancy gifts for himself, Jackson used his campaign fund to pay his wife a salary.
There’s nothing illegal about that, either. It’s done all the time. Politicians put family members on the payroll, even if they’re not facing opposition in their bids for re-election.
And all of this is done in the name of “good government.’
I take a different view of campaign contributions. I believe they’re legal bribes.
“That’s a contradiction,” people sometimes tell me, contending that a bribe is inherently illegal.
But here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say on the definition of “bribe”:
“1: Money or favor given or promised in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust. 2: Something that serves to induce or influence.”
Well, that sure sounds like a definition of a campaign contribution to me.
There are people, I admit, who will send $10, $25 or $50 to a political candidate who are true believers.
They’re trying to help their “guy” or “gal” get elected because no one else could do the job or the alternative is so awful they can’t stand the thought.
But I can’t help feeling that campaign fundraising is inherently evil. It goes back to what my mother told me when I was a child: “You don’t get something for nothing in this life.”
Unless you’re a political candidate ...
Kelly, who’s expected to receive about 70 percent of the vote in the April 9 special election, is still raising money. An email sent by her campaign reads:
“Today, the NRA released their best fundraising numbers in over a decade. Meanwhile, communities across America continue to be plagued by devastating gun violence.
“The stories on the nightly news get worse and worse, but the NRA raises more and more money. It’s shocking and wrong.
“Powerful pro-gun forces are doubling down to prevent common sense gun reforms from ever passing. They know the wave of public opinion is with us — with making our communities safer, making our neighborhoods stronger — so they’re pinning their hopes on big moneyed special interests.
“We can’t let them win. And with you on my side, they won’t.
“Can you contribute $25, $50, or $100 today and send a message to the NRA?
“... Anything you can afford will help us do the work we need to do to save lives. Grassroots support and small-dollar donors are the key to showing the special interests how strong our movement to end gun violence is.
“Please consider a donation today of $25, $50, or $100 to show pro-gun special interests that they can’t buy their way to victory ...”
So it’s shocking and wrong for the National Rifle Association to raise money but good for Kelly.
I received an email from Kelly’s campaign recently, boasting that she had raised more than $200,000 for her special election campaign.
I tried to find out how many fundraisers she’s attended and where, but her campaign staff failed to provide the information.
It really doesn’t matter.
The public isn’t bothered by this sort of thing anymore unless a public official buys a $40,000 Rolex watch or uses his campaign fund to subsidize his gambling.
Barack Obama raised so much money, more than any other presidential candidate in history, that he could turn down the federal cash he could have gotten to run for office. So did his Republican opponent.
And that campaign occurred during one of the worst economies in this country’s history, when people were struggling to pay their mortgages and wealthy folks were screaming that taxes were killing them.
Billions of dollars going into campaign war chests that might be used for some other purpose.
And the funny thing about it is, all those folks who invest in government never complain when they find out their money went into a slot machine or was used to buy Michael Jackson’s old fedora.
And for all those people out there who have invested in good government over the years, have you ever seen a return on your money?