MAD DOG: The Price of Politics
Politics has always been a money game, the difference is now it's more out in the open. It used to be that the back rooms filled up with cigar smoke while the politician's pockets filled up with cash. Nowadays, thanks to federal campaign financing laws and smoking restrictions, it's all done out on the street just like those other bad habits -- spitting and prostitution.This isn't how it's supposed be. The American political system is based on the idea that our elected officials ("the weasels") represent us ("the peons"). The thinking goes: We elect them and pay their salaries, therefore they're supposed to pass the laws we want them to pass. But, like the hard to find Yasir Arafat Beanie Babies, politicians go to the highest bidder. The difference is they don't get sold on the Internet.Yet.Last year special interest groups spent $1.17 billion lobbying Congress, the White House, and federal agencies like the Department of Pouring Money Down the Drain. This is enough to give a box of Slim Jims to every man, woman, and child in the United States and still have enough left over to buy a governor or two. Well, as long as they're from small states.How these groups do this is by sending lots of lobbyists to Washington. So many, in fact, that they outnumber members of Congress 27-to-1. This means Senators and Representatives never have to have dinner with the same lobbyist more than once every 27 days, making it about as anticipated, enjoyable, and frequent as a woman's period.The American Medical Association spent the most money lobbying last year, doling out $17.1 million. I, on the other hand, spent the least, not even checking off that box on my tax form that asks if I want to contribute to the delinquency of a candidate in the next election. Hell, the only box I ever check on my tax form is the one that says "Deceased, please send all future forms to my ash-filled urn."(NOTE: I kid the IRS, which is a new thing. A year ago I couldn't have even joked about this without having IRS agents break down my door and confiscate my belongings, the cash I hide in the Tide box under the kitchen sink, and my mother, but luckily their new Citizen's Bill of Rights says we're allowed to make one joke at the agency's expense each calendar year as long as we're the unmarried head of a household with no hermaphrodite children under the age of 14 and a total gross income less than line 42 plus line 17 divided by the square root of an elm tree.)The big question is: Do elm trees have square roots? No, that's not it. What I really meant to ask is: What do you get for your hard earned lobbying dollar? If you're Philip Morris you get your products banned from most public places. If you're Microsoft, you get sued by the Department of Justice. Most people would consider this a bad investment, but just imagine what would happen if they didn't cough up all these bucks.There are more direct ways to get money to a politician, like donating it to their election campaign. I could donate my federally mandated limit of $2,000 and if I'm lucky I'd get a letter signed by a laser printer which misspells my name and thanks me for allowing them to put me on every campaign fundraising mailing list for the next 125 years.But it could be worse -- I could be like the Chinese. They gave Clinton $639,000 and all they got is a couple of satellites (which they had to buy anyway), two weeks worth of photo ops (which they could have gotten by digitally replacing Nixon with Clinton), and a chance to wonder if that red-head who accompanied him and Hillary was Monica Lewinsky.It's only fair that we should be able to buy our politicians. After all, they try to buy us. They do this in a number of ways -- by getting Congress to give money to local projects, by lowering our taxes whether it's a smart thing to do or not, and by guaranteeing that we'll have plenty to laugh at in Jay Leno's monologues.They also try to buy our votes with advertising. In 1996 Clinton spent $1.36 per vote to get elected. Bob Dole spent $1.63. Ross Perot, on the other hand, dropped a grand total of $17.95 at Staples for magic markers and flip charts and got nearly 8 million people to vote for him. Of course, they all thought he was Ross on "Friends".But no matter how you look at it, politicians are still supposed to be representing us, the little people. Here in this country if they vote against our wishes we wait a couple of years, then give them another chance. That's because as human beings we believe that everyone deserves another opportunity. This works in a politician's favor, which is why Marion Barry, Jesse Helms, and Trent Lott have had more chances than James Hormel's had lovers.In Colombia they have a better grasp of how this should work. In Paniquita, the Indian council recently decided to punish a senator-elect because he supported a presidential candidate they didn't like. Although they threatened to force him to renounce his seat and be strung up in a tree and whipped, they relented. Now all he'll have to do is walk six hours on a dirt road, spend a near-freezing night in a pasture, be stripped naked in the morning, and be thrown into a lake. Now that's culpability."This will help restore my good energy and free me of evil spirits," the politician reportedly said.Funny, that's the same thing most Congressmen say after their monthly free lunch with their favorite lobbyist. Well, that and "What's the number of that bill you want passed?"