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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
Commentary

Political office for sale

Published:

Political offices offer high public profile and wield a lot of power. The higher the office, the greater the power and profile.

Those with great wealth are prepared to spend millions to either get an office for themselves or control someone who occupies one, and often do.

Some zillionaires purchase sports teams for fun, but some “purchase” political offices for their hobby.

When Meg Whitman got tired of running eBay, she spent $119 million of her own money to run for governor of California, eclipsing Michael Bloomberg’s $109 million to get re-elected mayor of New York.

By any standard, Sean Parker is a very cool donor. And this year, the 34-year-old co-founder of Napster is poised to bring his considerable fortune into the political world with fresh intensity, preparing to make a significant investment in the 2014 election cycle.

He has donated almost exclusively to Democrats. At least for now, the Silicon Valley billionaire is primarily interested in fixing what he views as a broken political process, promoting voter engagement and supporting politicians who work across the aisle. Loosely translated that says, “I am getting ready to buy an office as soon as I can decide which one to buy.”

It is not uncommon for congressional candidates to contribute in excess of a half million of their personal money to get elected.

Congress has become a “millionaires club.”

For the first time in history, more than half the members of Congress are millionaires. Of the 534 members of the House and Senate, 268 had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012. The median net worth for members of the House and Senate was $1,008,767. Many of them used personal and family wealth to get there.

One need only look to Southwest Florida for a recent example.

This past week Curt Clawson won the primary for the congressional seat formerly held by disgraced Trey Radel.

Unlike his two leading opponents, the millionaire former automotive executive never spent any time in the state Legislature.

But even as Clawson boasted about his lack of political experience, he relied on his personal wealth to overwhelm the opposition, putting $3.4 million of his own money in the race to get a political job that pays $174,000 per year.

Clawson was a political unknown running against well-entrenched and experienced Southwest Florida political leaders, but his personal wealth suddenly more than evened the playing field.

I well remember when I was in the Florida House and first ran for the Senate.

I was unopposed when a wealthy developer who had no political experience jumped into the race with today’s equivalent of a half-million dollars, an unheard of sum in those days.

I won, but my opponent’s personal wealth almost bought himself a seat in the state Senate.

Then there are those who ask why you want to be one when can you can own one.

Most people haven’t heard of Tom Steyer, a San Francisco billionaire former hedge fund manager and radical environmentalist.

He is also a left-wing billionaire who “owns” President Obama.

Last week, the Obama administration announced that it has again delayed a final decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The administration seems to understand how unpopular the delay will be, but it made the announcement while most Americans were focused on Passover and Easter.

Building the pipeline is overwhelmingly popular with the public, in part because it will create tens of thousands of jobs for Americans and free us from Middle East petroleum control.

But here’s the biggest outrage in the process:

The power broker behind the decision is Steyer, who has reportedly threatened the Obama administration with severe consequences if it dares allow the pipeline to be constructed.

He says he will throw $100 million into key congressional races this fall to help the left so long as Obama doesn’t move forward on the pipeline.

So, faced with the choice of creating blue-collar jobs in the heartland and achieving energy independence or following the orders of a San Francisco environmental extremist, Obama chose the billionaire.

Steyer is bankrolling many Democrat campaigns and left-wing causes. He spent $11 million to support the election of Terry McAuliffe as governor of Virginia in 2013. He’s using his fortune to advocate for policies that will prevent the creation of thousands of jobs, while arguably doing little to nothing for the environment.

Bloomberg, now that he is not tied to the mayor’s desk in New York, has decided to match the NRA with $50 million of his personal money to thwart the Second Amendment and do away with the lawful right of Americans to own firearms for personal protection.

The list of examples goes on.

When the direction of government is controlled by a few of the wealthiest rather than the will of the people, our ship of state is on a collision course for disaster.

That’s my opinion, and I am sticking to it.

John Grant is a political columnist who served 21 years in the Florida Legislature and now practices estate planning law in Tampa. He can be reached at MyOpinion@johngrant.net.

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