Quid Pro Quo


Although the story appeared on page one of the local newspaper, it didn’t have much to report. Under a bold headline TOP HEAVY we read "Blunt, Nixon cash in." Blunt is Matt Blunt, Missouri’s governor, and Nixon is Jay Nixon, the state attorney general. Evidently they are going to be the contenders for the governorship in the next election. The gist of the article was that these two were garnering most of the campaign contributions, with candidates for lesser positions receiving only the crumbs that fall from their tables.

Specifically, Blunt has received, in the last six months, about $3 million from 500 donors; Nixon about $1.3 million from 2000 donors during the same time. This, I think, is more interesting than the fact that other candidates are not getting their share of the gravy. As a non-voter, I would be happy if none of them received a dime. But the big boys got lots of bucks.

Three million from 500 donors means an average contribution of six thousand. That’s a pretty significant gift. Many gave far less, of course, because we’re told that, of the five hundred donors, eight gave one hundred thousand each.

Now THAT’S interesting! Eight individuals are so intent on retaining Blunt as governor that they’ll risk a hundred thousand to try to accomplish it. Why?

I’m an antiquarian, which means I’ve seen many governors come and go, but I’d be hard pressed indeed to name six past governors, and absolutely unable to recall anything of significance done by any one of them.

In fact, isn’t that the normal state of affairs? I’ve flown hundreds of thousands of miles on airplanes, but cannot recall the name of a single pilot who introduced himself during the flight, as they almost always do. If he competed for the job with another pilot, I didn’t know it, and wouldn’t have known which one to vote for, had the job depended on winning an election. What difference does it make? If the pilot is competent, should I care who he is?

The governor has certain duties. As long as those duties are carried out, does his identity matter? For all the difference it makes, he could be the masked, anonymous governor, and so what? But, in that case, why would someone pony up one hundred thousand bucks to try to get one man elected, instead of another? I cannot imagine any reason why a person would spend a dime, much less a million of them, to try to get a specific person elected, unless he expected "his" candidate, if successful, to reward him in some way or another.

Nor can I conceive of any reason why a candidate would accept a hundred thousand from someone, unless he was willing to put himself in that donor’s debt, and acknowledged it by accepting his donation.

Is that the way it’s supposed to be? Isn’t a governor supposed to represent ALL the people? But in the cold hard light of day, wouldn’t he be more concerned about the desires and ambitions of his one hundred thousand dollar supporter, than the aspirations of someone who donated nothing, or only a few bucks?

Of course, candidates for office have a "platform," of various measures they would like to see enacted into laws. Governors, however, are administrators. Why should an administrator have any goals, other than to faithfully administer the laws, and see to the day-to-day chores of keeping the government behemoth operating more or less smoothly? And if that’s all there is to the governor’s job, why would it be worth a hundred grand to anybody to get candidate X elected, instead of candidate Y?

I’m not naïve. It’s the hypocrisy that disgusts me, not the chicanery that’s part and parcel of politics. I’m sure the governor, and his well-heeled supporters, as well as his opponent and his supporters, would, if asked, expostulate on the role of democracy, fairness, equal justice for all, and even-handedness in writing and administering laws. They would assure us, without doubt, that the very idea that a winning candidate might be in the pocket of a large donor is utterly repugnant!

Still, if I gave the winning candidate a huge check, I know whom I’d call when my plant needed expansion and eminent domain would make the land available, or I wanted to obtain a lucrative state contract. "Hello, governor! Remember me?"

How could he forget?

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.