Friday, October 19, 2012

Big gifts mean big returns

Giving money to a presidential campaign is like giving a part of your sandwich to your begging dogs.

They don’t go away. The more you give them, the more begging you get, but in politics, what you can expect to get for your donation is directly affected by what you give.

Somewhere in the 18 days until the election, spending on this presidential campaign will likely reach $1 billion, and that does not include donations raised and spent for congressional, state or local offices. U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen was famous for pointing out that a billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you’re dealing with some real money. This real money threatens to control our political discourse today more than ever before.

Columbia Law School Professor Richard Briffault wrote in The Atlantic magazine that “[d]ependence on these large donors inevitably influences the policies they [politicians] support, much as the fear of triggering a torrent of spending against them can cause them to run away from certain issues and not cast certain votes.”

Even a few thousand dollars is more than most voters will ever give. In contrast to most small donors, uber-wealthy individuals and large corporations don’t “give” money when they donate. They invest. That means that after a candidate they’ve supported takes office, they inevitably will show up at some point to collect on their investment.

For a billion dollars, it’s certain that after this election, mega-donors will get more than a mass-mailed thank-you note, a signed Christmas card, priority in line for a White House tour or an overnight stay in the Lincoln bedroom.

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