Everybody Owes Somebody

There's a famous saying in Chicago politics: "We don't want nobody that nobody sent." It traces back to a reply by a Chicago Committeeman to Abner Mikva, then a hopeful Stevenson volunteer who became member of the Illinois House, a member of Congress, a judge, professor and Clinton's White House Counsel. Generally it means that you have to be connected to be of use in Chicago politics and government.

The flip side is one gets nowhere in politics (pretty much in life actually) without owing somebody something. Writ large it's a, maybe the, fundamental flaw in our electoral politics. Running a campaign costs money, that money has to come from somewhere and that guy is going to want consideration. That nutty 1st Amendment roadblocks full publicly financed presidential campaigns as does historical aversion. Thomas Jefferson put it well: "To compel a man to furnish contribution of money to the propagation of opinions to which he does not agree is sinful and tyrannical."

Take a look at these letters from the Obama campaign to John Gage, National President of the American Federation of Government Employees (courtesy of the Washington Post). Each lists policy endeavors the recipient can expect from an Obama Administration. I'm very confident that:
  1. Some of those policies are simultaneously good for taxpayers and the union's members.
  2. Some of those policies are better for the union's members than taxpayers.
  3. None of those policies are better for taxpayers than the union's members.
So here's a documented example of payback in electoral politics. Support me during my campaign (with money or effort) and I'll pull some policy levers on your behalf once elected. Of course the letters don't contain an unambiguous quid pro quo, but if you're a grown-up you get the implication (do you think Obama wrote these letters himself or John Gage did and Obama's team signed off?). John Gage isn't malintentioned of course, but he keeps his job by improving the lot of his members, not by improving that of taxpayers (though certainly in some cases the former does result in the latter). Make sure to read this one, particularly the third paragraph. I love the reference to parking. Is that really a Presidential concern?

Will we ever know how many shadowy promises to less deserving contributors Barry or Johnny had to make? Probably not.

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