Tuesday, June 22, 2004
The clock is ticking for Virginia legislators as they fight to raise as much money as possible before a June 30 reporting deadline. The Legislature's extended session has eaten into their fundraising time this year, resulting in a mad dash for funds to show that as a candidate, you've got the right stuff. (Money)
In the course of these efforts, some Virginia legislators have sent out various requests for campaign contributions to wealthy donors and Political Action Committees (PACs). The response that seven legislators got to their request from the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association's (VHHA) PAC suggests why the state of Virginia is sometimes known as the "Mother of Statesmen".
As Pamela Stallsmith of The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, VHHA's senior vice-president and chief lobbyist Katherine Webb had this to say to the seven legislators who voted against a $1.4 billion tax increase:
Your failure to vote for a budget that only provided a modest increase places us in the difficult position of denying your contribution request. We would be happy to discuss this decision with you, and we would welcome the opportunity to again make our case for increased state funding for health care.
In language the rest of us can understand- no money for us = no money for you. Webb continues, stating that the purpose of the VHHA PAC:
is to support current and future state leaders who take responsible and proactive positions regarding Virginia's health care system. (emphasis added)
Oooeee! that's some statesmanship right theyah! But let's be clear about the import of Webb's words. The letter is not only a denial of funding now - it also makes clear that VHHA will give money in the future only to those candidates who agree with their position. Which means to future opponents of the seven legislators brazen enough not to vote exactly how VHHA wants.
It's a threat.
This is the problem. Politicians can say that they are not influenced by big money donors, whether individuals or PACs, but when it comes right down to it, all pols need money to get elected and to stay elected. It doesn't matter how pretty they say it: if your donors say "no money unless you change your tune", you either change your tune or pack your bags, 'cause under the current system, you're done.
Maybe big money shouldn't be able to influence our elected officials by influencing their chances for re-election. Maybe the representatives in a representative democracy should be accountable to all the people, not just those with enough money to wield as a hammer come election time.
Some of the legislators got pretty miffed at the suggestions in VHHA's letter, and are talking about opening up a bribery investigation. Shoot. Nearly every single American could give you the results of that investigation before you even get started:
This is our system. This is what happens every day in letters and e-mails and phone calls and conversations in nearly every state in the union and certainly in Washington D.C. This is how regular folks end up making less and less and paying more and more for gas and health care and education and milk, while rich folks get richer and richer off our tax dollars. This is how people can sit at home on Election Day because they don't think their vote makes any difference. This is how we stopped believing in the power of we the people to make a change through our elected government.
This is what is wrong in America. This is what we gotta change.