Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What Mr. Schilling And Mr. Brownback Could Teach Us All

What Mr. Schilling and Mr. Brownback Could Teach Us All

Earlier this month, I wrote about the rise and fall of Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios.  It is a topic that keeps on giving.  Just to review, Curt Schilling, baseball star, wanted to be Curt Schilling, entrepreneur.  Unable to raise money in the private arena, he turned his charm on the gatekeepers of taxpayer funds.  In May of 2010 he hosted a GOP fundraiser at his Medfield, Massachusetts mansion (a house featured as an “Estate of the Day”).  There, he met and dazzled Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri, who stepped up to the plate with a $75 Million loan guarantee program.

The rest is history.  Schilling’s company turned out one videogame of indifferent success, and then ran out of funds. Last week, after the great man himself met with Rhode Island officials and failed to extract even more taxpayer money, he did the graceful and humane thing.  He fired everyone on the spot.  By email.

OK, so Schilling is an egomaniacal heel.  So he took $4 million of his own money out of 38 Studios shortly after he received taxpayer largess.  So no rational private equity investor nor commercial lender was willing to touch 38 Studios-even non-partisan C-Net notes that investing in this area is “known to be incredibly risky." And so we can all derive the inevitable conclusion-if Schilling hadn’t been a famous baseball player whose intellectual home was Fox News, he would never have received the warm and lucrative embrace of Governor Carcieri.  Host a fundraiser for the GOP, get $75 Million of taxpayer money.  Excellent return on investment.

And that’s where our story gets off course. Schilling-the-hypocrite talking small government out of one side of his mouth while lapping at the “all you can drink” taxpayer bar with the other side is fun to talk about, but it’s also misplaced.  He is a bum, but an enabled bum.

The lesson of Schilling’s fiasco isn’t the appearance of mere favoritism or even corruption.  It is the fact that, in the real world, politicians like Carcieri make choices, and those choices don’t exist in a vacuum-they play out in the communities the rest of us live in.  It takes revenue to pick up the garbage, or teach first grade, and when the revenues go, the garbage stays.

Rhode Island was such a place.  In the summer of 2009, before the good Governor Carcieri was overcome by the spirit of generosity to Mr. Schilling, he went to people of his State, and demanded they make sacrifices in the name of fiscal prudence.  On August 24, his office issued a self-congratulatory “Shutdown Day Press Release”.  The release identified 12 days where the Rhode Island government would shut down (no pay for government workers, including schools) and substantial cuts in State aid to counties and towns.  Carcieri mouthed compassion “We are very well aware of the impact shutdown days will have on state employees and state services. For Rhode Islanders there will be inconveniences; for state employees there is sacrifice. I am asking everyone’s patience, understanding, and awareness that these steps are unavoidable if the State is to live within its means.”

So, just how much money did the Governor’s press release tout as a savings for all that sacrifice and inconvenience?  $67.8 Million. Now, it is unfair to make the linkage between that $67.8 Million of pain absorbed by the common folk, and $75 Million handed to Mr. Schilling for his private profit-the cuts and the gift were not synchronized.  What is not unfair, however, is to ask why any elected official would choose to bring so much economic discomfort to his constituents, and then turn around and act so recklessly with the power (and money) given to him.  Where’s the accountability? 

And that brings us to Kansas, where the Republicans so dominate state offices that every possible trace of liberalism has been stamped out.  Kansas is led by the formidable Governor Sam Brownback, a Tea Party favorite and a social and fiscal conservative of impeccable credentials. Brownback has been merciless-he’s cut aid to schools, social programs, the elderly, the arts, and he’s even opened an “Office of the Repealer” where “needless government regulations” are taken to die.  And Brownback takes no prisoners.  Nine “moderate” Republicans who expressed concern about the scope of the cuts last year found themselves on the wrong side of primary challengers supported by their Governor.  Kansas has just passed yet another tax cut bill, this one projected to result in a 12.8 % reduction in state revenues-all of which will come out of spending at the local level, causing even the Republican head of the State Senate to pause.  Kansas has become a laboratory of Tea Party ideas.

And I say, good for Kansas.  These aren’t choices I would make, but I don’t live there.  This is what the electoral process is all about, not some back door gift to a political friend at the citizens’ expense.  If the voters of Kansas are happy with lower tax rates on some people and a lower level of services for the rest, why shouldn’t they have them?  And, if they are not happy, they can go to the polls the next time around and express their discontent. 

In the end, what is happening in Kansas should become part of the national discussion-just like Mr. Schilling’s all-expenses paid Rhode Island holiday. 

As voters, we should demand it.  And, with five months until the elections, there is no time like the present to start.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Postscript: What The Chicago Cubs Could Learn From...Curt Schilling

Postscript: What The Chicago Cubs Could Learn From….Curt Schilling

Yesterday, I posted “What The Chicago Cubs Could Learn From Drip Pans”
http://syncopatedpolitics.blogspot.com/2012/05/what-chicago-cubs-could-learn-from-drip.html which reviewed the Ricketts' family’s ill-timed entry into the world of Super-Pac negative advertising while trying to scoop up $150 million or so of taxpayer dollars for the renovation of Wrigley Field. 

I published too soon.  The moderately tawdry tale of how a small but well connected Kentucky company manages to sell $17,000 drip pans to the Army thanks to a little help from Republican Representative Hal Rogers is simply not in the same class as the story of Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks legend Curt Schilling’s drinking deeply into the waters of the public trough.

Schilling’s company, 38 Studios, is a creator of videogames.  In July of 2010, the good people of Rhode Island, a small state with significant budget problems and one municipality that went bankrupt, reached into its pocket to hand Mr. Schilling a $75 Million loan guarantee in return for him relocating.  Then Governor Donald Carcieri (R) hailed the initial agreement as a way to generate 300 new jobs for his beleaguered state, which, if my math holds, amounts to $250,000.00 per job, a true bargain when stacked up against wasteful spending on sanitation, education, and public health. 

Two months ago, Mr. Schilling went on Fox News to crow over the deal, hanging with his good buddy Sean Hannity, ripping the socialist Obama Administration, and complaining about the oppressiveness of government.  “Every dollar I can’t commit to my company that’s paid in taxes is paying a government that I believe is too big and doing way too much that I don’t want done.”  He went on to prattle about how great life was in Rhode Island; it was good to see the “Republicans and independents to do right by the people.”

Two months later, the warm glow that emanated from the burning of public funds seems to have dissipated, and 38 Studios seems ever more oppressed by the power of the government.  Mr. Schilling’s company has now bounced a check for $1.1 Million to a state agency, and is apparently laying off some of those $250K-a pop employees.  Not surprisingly, he’s asked for even more support.

So, how did this all come to pass?  Well, in 2010, Rhode Island, eager to attract new businesses, created a $125 Million Economic Development Corporation loan guarantee program.  And how did Mr. Schilling’s company manage to vacuum up 60% of that money all on its own?  Apparently no one in the State Legislature knows, as they never signed off on the deal.  That would leave only the former Governor Carcieri, and the former baseball star Curt Schilling with the answers.  Mr. Carcieri hasn’t responded yet.  As for the extraordinarily voluble Mr. Schilling, cat’s got his tongue right now.

I wonder if they might make themselves available to the ownership of the Cubs?  When it comes to taking from the public, it always helps to have an experienced hand.


Monday, May 21, 2012

What The Chicago Cubs Could Learn From Drip Pans

What The Chicago Cubs Could Learn From Drip Pans

As fantastic as Sandberg’s “City of the big shoulders” is, its favorite baseball son, the Chicago Cubs, have drifted in championship Diaspora for over 100 years.  In 1908, the Cubbies, led by Hall of Famers Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown, and their peerless (and alliterative) infield trio of Shortstop Joe Tinker, Second Baseman Johnny Evers, and First Baseman and Manager Frank Chase won their second straight World Series.  The future seemed limitless.

And then, it ended.  Seven times from 1909 to 1945 they returned to the World Series, and seven times they lost.  In 1945, they compounded their karma issues by evicting from Wrigley Field a billy goat, the pet and mascot of Billy Sianis, Cubs fan and owner of the local Billy Goat Tavern.  Apparently, the honored goat was disturbing other patrons and smelled, well, like a goat.  Sianis, in a telegram to owner Phillip K. Wrigley, also of gum fame, placed a curse upon the Cubs; darkness would shroud their future, making it a barren wasteland of losses and lost opportunities.  That curse has held.  They lost the ’45 Series, and haven’t returned, producing 29 losing seasons between 1946 and 1983, an epic collapse in 1969 (which also involved a black cat) and an execrable defeat in 2003 which, out of respect to the many nice folk in the Second City, I will not discuss further.

The Wrigleys eventually sold out to The Tribune Company, who managed to go bankrupt, and the Cubbies and Wrigley Field were sold to the Ricketts family, led in the purchase by Tom Ricketts, but whose fortune derived from patriarch Joe Rickett’s founding of Ameritrade.  

Now, here’s where things get really interesting.  The Cubs on field performance got worse, but economically things began to look up.  They entered into negotiations with government for some nice taxpayer funded renovations to their privately held properties and obtained a commitment for about $150 Million. 

But wait.  Not so fast.  While professional sports teams across the country have been muscling huge amounts of money from strapped states and municipalities, many of whom have cut back on basic services, they have usually had the cooperation of compliant local pols concerned about losing local sports treasures on their watch. 

The Cubbies (as is their destiny) made a small error.  Patriarch Joe, attracted by Citizen’s United’s karaoke party for the uber-wealthy, was considering a ten million dollar buy through a Super Pac for a profoundly negative and personal ad about President Obama.   

Gaffe!!! The Mayor of Chicago is none other than the redoubtable Rahm Emanuel, former Chief of Staff to the President.  Rahm is not a happy camper, drawing the quite obvious conclusion that a little sleight of hand takes taxpayer money out of Chicagoan’s pockets, mixes it a with a few Wrigley renovations, and frees up Rickett’s money to go after his former boss.  That’s pretty brassy even for Chicago.  Rahm refused to take Rickett’s family calls.  And Tom and company have gone into full damage control (“Ad?  What ad?  We don’t even know what advertising is.  And Dad has no role in the Cubs….”)  

The problem with the Ricketts’ approach wasn’t that they waded into politics, or even that they picked the wrong guy to tangle with, it’s that old Joe forgot the way things really work.  Negative ads may be the new Ferrari for him to play with, but when it comes to public money, the lowly drip pan is where it’s at.

There was a wonderful (nauseating, but wonderful) story in the New York Times a few days ago that showed how it is done.  A privately held Kentucky company, Phoenix Products, has been selling $17,000.00 drip pans (to catch transmission fluids, not for cooking turkeys) to the Army for their Black Hawk helicopters.  This despite the fact that competitors have something similar for around $2,000.00.   So, how does an obscure company manage to score such a fabulous deal?  Genius-level engineering?  Rare materials?  Unsurpassed service?  Maybe, but having Representative Harold Rodgers, the Republican who is now the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, adding an earmark to a 2009 spending bill certainly helped.  The good Mr. Rogers, also dubbed the “The Prince of Pork” by the Lexington Herald-Leader, has, unsurprisingly, been the object of some adoration from the owners of Phoenix Products, who are the types who feel a card isn’t always sufficient-nothing says “I love you” better than something tangible-like contributions. 

You will probably be pleased to hear that Mr. Rogers is a fiscal conservative of true rectitude.  From his website, “In these challenging economic times the last thing we should be doing is imposing new taxes on hard working families.  I also remain opposed to repeated bailouts, failed stimulus bills and out of control budgets.  Families have learned to spend less, be responsible and live within their budget – and now it’s time for the federal government to do the same.  Kentuckians deserve the decency of accountability and oversight when their money is being spent.”  I would just note that Kentuckians receive $1.51 from the Federal Government for each dollar they send, which I think is a fairly good accounting.

Speaker Boehner has just threatened another ginned-up debt ceiling crisis over spending.  Those Phoenix drip pans are still flying off the shelves.  And the Cubbies are currently 15-26.  

There has got to be a better way.



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Icing And The Cake-Jamie Dimon And Edward Conard

The Icing And The Cake-Jamie Dimon And Edward Conard

You may have heard that JPMorgan Chase has suffered a large loss-the preliminary reports are at least $2 Billion, and the number may eventually rise to twice that

It might occur to you to ask what Chase, with its army of dark suited French-blue shirted souls smilingly collecting deposits that pay no interest, could possibly do to lose $2 Billion.  I remember, as a child, taking a locked heavy-duty canvas bag with the night deposit from my Dad’s pharmacy, walking a couple of blocks, and dropping it down the bronze chute to some unseen all-night teller.  It took a lot of pills and lipsticks and deodorants and boxes of Barton’s candies to make a $1,000 deposit, so I imagine that my Dad would be very upset if the bank lost that bag.  A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation tells me that $2 Billion is actually two million Canvas Bags, which might make for an interesting Two Million Bag March on Wall Street.  Since each of those bags were roughly 8’’ by 11”,  that would imply a line of bags forty feet wide stretching the length of Manhattan.  Quite the motorcade.

So, how does one lose that many bags?  Fortunately, that’s a question lesser minds (like mine) can explore.  Chase lost their bags through something called a hedge.  Some of us think “hedge” sounds either horticultural or very sleek and exotic, like “hedge fund”, where highly trained quants divine subtle signs in mathematical tea leaves to bet stupendous amounts of money and win untold quantities of bags (and other baubles).  Rich people can invest in hedge funds-perhaps because they have a better affinity for numbers. Rank and file folk like me aren’t “Qualified Investors” and are pretty much relegated to putting our bags in a bank, like Chase.

Chase’s leader, Jamie Dimon, has been out there on the Sunday talk show circuit, manfully pronouncing mea culpa (actually, it’s more like a “someone else was culpa,” as three other heads have rolled.) 

What Mr. Dimon has owned up to is that traders in the London office (I promised it was sleek and exotic) working on behalf of the bank’s chief investment office were engaging in hedging activities, and these hedging activities went a tad awry.  How does one go awry in hedging bags?  Isn’t the very act of hedging supposed to be a limitation of risk, like a bookie laying off bets so he can make his money on the vigorish?  Isn’t that what a bank’s chief investment office supposed to do, manage risk?  Well, yes, and no.  Chase’s chief investment office wanted to manage risk, but it also wanted to be a profit center, and as the saying goes, “no risk, no reward”.  So, in search of the reward, known in Chase by the very descriptive term, the “Icing”, they took the risk.

Ok, so let’s just sum up for a moment.  A bank collects bags from people like my Dad and lends money out at higher rates, providing capital for people to grow their business, buy houses, etc.  So far, so good, and that’s what banks did (usually quite prudently) for decades after the Great Depression.  The FDIC insured, so if ignorant people like myself were suddenly seized with irrational fear and tried to grab back those bags all at once, the rest of the bank’s depositors would be sure to get theirs back.

Unfortunately, we are talking about low-tech locked canvas bags, producing merely moderate vast wealth.  Not enough glamour, and not enough Icing.  So, the banks went to their friends in Congress (from both parties), managed to get “regulatory relief” and the in-house pastry chefs really began to bake.

You may recall a minor economic global catastrophe back in 2008, where the bag collectors had a bit of a sugar high.  Fortunately, we bag depositors were there to bail them out with our tax dollars, an irony which seems to have been lost on many of them.  An effort to balance the risk going forward led to Dodd-Frank and Volcker Rule, the intent of which is to curtail some of the more gymnastic impulses of those banks with the bags.  These reforms, supported by Mr. Obama, have been vociferously objected to by Wall Street, with Mr. Dimon at the forefront, and the entire Republican Party.  No Wall Street cash for Donkey this election cycle.

The Chase mini-disaster might be just another news blip if it weren’t so artfully juxtaposed with the upcoming release of former Bain (and Romney) partner Edward Conard’s book, “Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong”.  Mr. Conard was interviewed for the May 1, 2012 Times Sunday Magazine by Adam Davidson, and the article has to be read-I can’t do it justice.

Mr. Conard’s point of view, in short, is that income disparity is good, and huge income disparity is better.  The wealthy know how to invest capital for growth and innovation, while the unwashed merely spend it on consumables (like food). Therefore, government policies need, for the good of all of us, to enhance the opportunities of the wealthy to become even more so.  Conard blames the little meltdown in 2008 on ignorant bag-holders who made a run on the banks, not those Icing-seeking types.  Conard likes government insurance-in fact he wants an even bigger fund to be created using taxpayer money. He doesn’t like any other type of government regulation.  And he has a special disdain for Warren Buffett.  Buffett is failing society by giving billions to charity when he (Buffett) could invest it so much better.

Davidson’s article is hard to digest, because Conard can come off like a smoking jacket garbed Marie Antoinette-his disdain for the less successful is palpable, and his ideas appear to socialize risk while privatizing profit.  But they should been taken seriously, if not to the extreme he does.  There is an association between capital formation and innovation, albeit not Conard’s conflating Bain’s extractive financial engineering with Apple’s incredible contributions to productivity and pleasure.

It’s the kind of discussion our political leadership should be having when they look at how we regulate, who we tax, and how much we take away in entitlement reforms. And stark though they may be, Conard's views may be representative of many in the GOP, and their nominee.

Who takes the risk, who gets the Icing, and who gets the cake?  Are there any leftovers?

Food for thought?


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What Mariano Rivera And Dick Lugar Know About Everything

What Mariano Rivera And Dick Lugar Know About Everything

The great Yankee relief pitcher Mariano Rivera tore up his knee last week, ending his season, and quite possibly, his career. 

The senior Senator from Indiana, Dick Lugar, will be torn out of his job today, losing in the Republican Primary to State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.  His political career, except perhaps in an appointed role, is probably over.

We are poorer for both these losses.

Rivera was the embodiment of grace under fire, quiet efficiency, and class. If you love baseball, as I do, you know that there are only a handful of players who achieve a certain level of excellence in this sport of highly refined skills.  Baseball is far more like golf or tennis than the other major sports.  Athleticism helps, but there is also a mental aspect to the game, a certain discipline and even ruthlessness you need when trying to do something that is exquisitely difficult for mere mortals. Rivera had those qualities, but conducted himself in a manner than earned universal respect.

Lugar was a consistent conservative on social and economic issues, but he made his real mark on foreign policy and defense issues.  Notably, he worked across the aisle with people like Sam Nunn, the conservative Democratic Senator from North Carolina, on truly existential issues of the day, including arms control.  His great accomplishments include significant reductions in nuclear arsenals pointed at the United States and efforts at keeping those weapons away from rogue states.  A man of intellect with a grasp of complexity, he was also a person of grace and class.  Lugar advanced the cause of his state and his nation, and there are few things I can think of to be a better epitaph for a politician.

Rivera was unique. By most calculations, both statistical and from contemporary evaluations, he is the best relief pitcher of all time. Baseball fans may disagree as to where he rates among all pitchers, but, for comparison's sake, there is a statistic that normalizes Earned Run Average among pitchers in relationship to a seasonal mean of 100.  The highest mark by a starter was Pedro Martinez at 154, followed by the Hall of Fame great Walter Johnson at 148. The second highest ranked relief pitcher with at least 1000 innings pitched is Hoyt Willhelm at 147.  Rivera is at 206, a number so ridiculous it looks like a typo. 

When Lugar was just 35, he won the mayoralty of Indianapolis, and his time was marked plaudits from both sides of the aisle for innovative approaches to difficult problems.  He narrowly lost his first race for the Senate to the legendary Birch Bayh, but crushed the incumbent Democratic Vance Hartke two years later, and is now ending his sixth term.  He (was) so popular that six years ago, the Democrats did not even run a candidate against him, and he got 87% of the vote. 

Sadly, a career that spans 36 years in the Senate also straddles a time of intensifying partisanship.  In 1977, when Lugar was sworn in, the Senate and House had its share of small-mindedness, but it also had people of real ability, thoughtful and forward thinking, willing to fight like cats and dogs when necessary, but able to do big things together when the nation’s interests were at stake.  36 years later, the Dick Lugars of the world are rapidly becoming extinct and the Senate and House leaderships are filled with mediocre strivers.

Why should I, a Democrat worried about a GOP takeover of the Senate, mourn for the loss of a conservative Republican, particularly when Mourdock is a polarizing figure who ran a bare-knuckled campaign and who might more beatable?  It just doesn’t feel right in my gut.  Mourdock was recently quoted as saying  “the time for being collegial is past…It’s time for confrontation.”  Another nihilist, just what we all need. 

Mourdock isn’t an aberration.  All across the country, moderates of both parties are being driven from office, and in Indiana, the situation is particularly acute.  Along with Lugar, Evan Bayh, along with the Blue Dogs Baron Hill and Brad Ellsworth, are gone, and Joe Donnelly will likely lose to Mourdock.

Obviously, as a New Yorker, I have very little feel for Indiana politics. So I wrote a local conservative columnist, and he was gracious enough to reply.  He said, in effect, that there were two types of GOP Mourdock voters.  The first group were indeed the ones who wanted confrontation.  And the second were people looking for more energy than the 80 year-old Lugar could give.

I found that a little comforting, that it wasn’t all about the anger.   I sometimes think that the next great laboratory of change will be the Midwest, out of necessity.  It has a great many problems and discordant elements; social conservatives and more liberal university towns, large unions, wealth and poverty, farms, mining and shipping, reeling rust-belt cities barely hanging on to their industrial base.  The Midwest must evolve and all these interests have to be reconciled. There’s a lot going on there right now, from the slashing partisanship of Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker, to the more cerebral and less confrontational experimentation of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who seems to have something of the early Lugar in him-he has a distinct ideology, but is more problem solver than spoils collector. 

Short term, things don’t look good.  Politics as cage match, with good people the casualties. The Yankees aren’t doing too well, either. But, I found a couple of grace notes.  Rivera announced he was going to rehab and come back in 2013.  And a conservative columnist from Indiana took the time to speak kindly about my city and of his family and mine. 

I think I’m going to bank on Mariano and the Midwest. You have to have hope.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Citizens United Meets Duckpins For Dollars

Citizens United Meets Duckpins For Dollars

When I was in college there was a television show called Duckpins for Dollars, which pitted local denizens against each other in fierce duckpin contests for very small amounts of money.

Duckpins are miniature bowling pins, and you try to knock them down by throwing a bocce-sized duckpin bowling ball.  Then, you jump up and down when you manage a strike, droop your head when you miss a spare, and otherwise ham it up for the camera while hoping to score a 300 (and $50).  Duckpins for Dollars was half game show, half reality show, and all visionary in creating cheap programming.

I happened to attend a very nerdy but reasonably esteemed institution of higher learning.  We were all very clever and highly educated elitist young men and women.  So we reveled in the working class tomfoolery, the poly satin bowling shirts, the funny accents, and the occasional dental challenges of “Yucks For Bucks”.  Not much of a price for dignity, but they seemed to be having fun.

I hadn’t thought of Duckpins For Dollars until I saw an article in the New York Times, chronicling the efforts of Mitt Romney’s son Tagg, and Spencer Zwick (Mitt’s 2008 chief fundraiser) as they sought to create a private equity firm.  Their aim was true, to the tune of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars, and that fund (named Solamere) now throws off annual fees considerably in excess of the $50 they might have won on Duckpins (even adjusted for inflation). 

Did Tagg or Zwick have experience in private equity?  No, they didn’t.  Who invested in Solamere?  Well, as you might have expected, Mom and Dad kicked in-as I would for my children, albeit with a few missing zeros.  After that seed corn, 60-plus friends of the Romney clan-political friends, business associates, colleagues, campaign contributors, etc.

Solamere has fairly done well and delivered a decent return to investors.  It’s also been been run with an eye towards containing administrative expenses.  To that end, it showed frugality by first sharing an office address with the Romney campaign headquarters in Boston. Later, the company was located in the same building as Mr. Romney’s leadership PAC, Free and Strong America.

Mr. Zwick did nicely for himself elsewhere. While he was heading Solamere’s fund-raising in 2008 and 2009, he multitasked by raising money for Free and Strong.  The PAC paid his finance consulting firm direct fees of $425,000.00.  And there’s other cross-pollination between the campaign, the PAC, and Solamere, with people doing double duty, all one big happy family.

This, as my late father would have said, is the way of the world.  The wealthy and the powerful have each other’s backs.  And money needs a good home, so a quarter-billion just isn’t all that much among friends.

It is logical to ask whether we should care that there’s a potential relationship between Tagg, some of his investors, Mitt, and Mitt’s PAC.  Would President Mitt be influenced?  I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, if for no other reason that I can’t think of anyone who more embodies the idea of doing what's good for business than Mitt Romney. I don’t think he needs the incentive.

The late California politician Jesse Unruh was quoted as saying “money is the mother’s milk of politics”.  That was in 1966, and not much has changed since then.  There’s always been money available; in little sealed packets, by checks, to PACs, from businesses, from unions, through bundlers, through the front door and the back.  There’s “walking around money” pressed into the palms of locals by advance men for campaigns.  In Jimmy Breslin’s book about Watergate, “How The Good Guys Finally Won” Breslin writes about how the young Tip O’Neill was flabbergasted to see the cold hard cash that was handed to JFK’s men.  So, let’s not get our backs up too much when we find out that politics is a game where the dollar is well respected.

Unfortunately, Citizen’s United has completely changed the game, by amplifying those dollars exponentially.  The silly $200 campaign contribution limits are gone, obviating the need for some of the more glamorous skullduggery.  Now, unlimited, perfectly legal and confidential contributions funneled through Super Pacs, organizations like ALEC, and “dark money groups” rule the roost. No more high-fiving for a $50 strike.

Imagine the Congressman or Senator locked in a tight race, and a lobbyist for some special interest group sidles up to him and says, “Congressman, you know that legislation coming through your committee? Well, we have some concerns and some drafting suggestions.  By the way, we’ve always admired your fair-mindedness, even when you didn’t agree with our position, and we’d like to express that by helping out a bit in November.”

Can you blame businesses for trying to acquire that type of access?  Corporations may, in Mitt’s memorable phrase, be people too, but they have no immortal soul-they exist to make profits.  If a perfectly legal contribution to a Congressman can deliver up favorable legislation that produces a high return on investment, why wouldn’t you make it? 

Can every politician be bought?  Of course not, but if you were that Congressman, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t at least listen. It’s good to be a Congressman. And it’s really good to be a Senator.  So, faced with the reality of holding your nose a little for a teensy vote, or possibly being sent packing to less glamorous locales, maybe you hold your nose.

Is this good for the mere rank and file citizen?  Not really, but that’s where Solamere and Duckpins can serve as an inspiration. If wealthy folk can all bond together for fun and profit, why not the rest of us?

There were 131,313,820 votes cast in the last presidential election.  Subtract the one percent and that leaves 130 million voters.  If each of us kicked in just ten measly dollars, that’s $1.3 Billion, which starts to get us into Karl Rove territory.  Heck, maybe we could begin buying back some of our wayward leaders?

It’s a start. Fellow Citizens, let’s unite. Just a thought from a Yuck with Ten Bucks.