Thursday, April 22, 2004
As shocking as this may be to some people, Los Angeles Times Columnist George Skelton appears to have run across an honest campaign consultant.
When asked about the influence of money on public policy, Darry Sragow, who runs campaigns for the California Assembly, tells Skelton:
"Contributions clearly do affect policy decisions. Because if you vote against the interests of someone who has been a significant supporter, it only makes sense that person will become less of a significant supporter or a politician's worst nightmare, a significant opponent. You vote against those interests at your peril."
The refreshing thing about Sragow's quote is that it makes clear that the undue influence of big money on politics happens without any explicit agreement, or quid pro quo, where the donor says "here, I'll give you this money if you vote a certain way on this bill I care about." In fact, the politician doesn't even need to grant access to the donor, or speak to them at all for the contribution to have its intended effect. This is why reforms that prevent donors from giving big money to candidates but still allow them to give big money to parties, PACs, and other electioneering groups don't really stop the influence of big donors on the political process.
Even thought it might seem like it sometimes, politicians are no dummies. They can quickly figure out what an oil company executive would want them to do on a bill that impacts the oil industry, or what a meat-packer would want on a bill dealing with mad cow disease. Politicians then calculate whether or not they can afford to alienate that particular donor and still win the next election. If so, then maybe they vote against the donors interest. But if not, it's pretty easy to rationalize a vote against the public interest and in favor of a private interest by telling yourself that if you don't vote with the donor, you'll just get replaced by someone else who will next time.