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Thursday, December 02, 2004

Senator Frist Treats Contributors Like Enron Treated Shareholders

As Dan Morgan and Brian Faler report in The Washington Post, a campaign account of Senator Bill Frist doesn't have enough money in it to cover a $360,000 loan. Why? Because Senator Frist chose to invest contributions to his campaign account in the stock market; investments which have lost $460,000 since 2000.

What the heck is Senator Frist doing speculating with the money which his contributors entrusted to him to run for office?

It is bad enough when candidates and politicians use contributions for one office to run for another (just because you think George Bush would make a great President doesn't mean you think he would make a great Superintendent of Sewers), but allowing elected officials and candidates to risk those contributions presents two separate problems.

The first is what if Frist's investments actually made money? His campaign coffers would not be a reflection of popular support for his candidacy, but of his judgment about the stock market. We have a few names for that job - stock analyst, financial advisor, etc. - none of which is Senator of the United States.

The second problem is what actually happened to Frist: what if the investments lose money? Although what Frist did (many other elected officials might be doing the exact same thing, so the blame isn't entirely on Frist here) is legal, most contributors don't know that he is playing the stock market with their often hard-earned money. At the very least it seems to be an abuse of trust by Frist to risk squandering their contributions on financial speculation.

The law which allows this practice, passed of course by the politicians who may benefit from it, is just one example of the way which many elected officials treat money in politics like they do Monopoly money - theirs to do obtain, risk, squander and spend with little regard to its effect on our democracy.

Another example is the law just passed by Congress which allows - surprise surprise - candidates to use contributions to federal campaign accounts to run for state office.

For those of you who think this practice is crap, and should be abolished, you can use our Citizens' Toolkit to find your Congressional representatives to tell them to desist if they too are speculating with campaign contributions, and to pass a law which protects contributors from the abuse of trust now allowed.

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