"The Worst Form of Government -- Except For All the Others"
The Washington Post tells what may be a typical story of a "bundler" of political cash for candidates who comes up with the quid. But what is pro quo?
During the first nine months of this year, Sen. Barack Obama raised just $2,086 for his presidential campaign from people who live in and around this border town of stucco bungalows and weed-covered farm lots, and most candidates raised even less. But Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, has already raised more than $640,000 here, and her campaign expects to collect even more.
Clinton's success in this unlikely setting is based almost entirely on her friendship with one man, McAllen developer Alonzo Cantu. A self-made millionaire who once picked grapes on the migratory farm labor circuit, Cantu persuaded more than 300 people in Hidalgo County, where the median household income in 2006 was $28,660, to write checks ranging from $500 to $2,300 to the senator from New York.
Alonzo Cantu explained the purpose of his fundraising.
"Money and votes. I think we've shown we can raise money. That will get us attention, or at least get us a seat at the table, get us in the room." ...
So far, so good. Why else do people raise money for politics on both sides of the aisle except to get themselves into the room? But the Washington Post article hints the proceedings have an air of calculation about them. "The last thing you want to do is get on Alonzo's bad side," he said with a smile. Reyna donated $1,000 to Clinton. "Understand, I don't want anything," Cantu said. "Just to help South Texas."
And I guess he's a resident of South Texas too. One who realizes that a border fence is bad for busines, in particular for a hospital he's helped build.
Lately, Cantu has been pushing his contacts for help in bringing an interstate highway to McAllen. He has told them about local opposition to the Bush administration's plan to build a border wall along the Rio Grande. And he has asked lawmakers, including Clinton, to block legislation that many believe could hobble the hospital Cantu built in town. This was a driving concern among many of the doctors and other McAllen area medical professionals who wrote more than $145,000 in checks to Clinton.
Now it's natural to understand why the Senator from New York, whose main concern is health care, might fight to keep a hospital from closing due to lack of business caused by a border wall. But not everyone is convinced the hospital is entirely desirable.
The only problem with the hospital was its ownership model, which gave doctors 80 percent of the stock. That sounded alarms in Congress, which had taken steps in the past to put restrictions on doctor-owned medical facilities out of fears that if doctors share in the cash flow they generate, they will be tempted to conduct unnecessary procedures.
"It's just a channel through which they get kickbacks," said Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), who inserted language into a larger bill that would force doctor-owned hospitals, such as McAllen's, to restructure. The bill recently passed in the House and awaits action in the Senate. ...
A campaign spokesman said Clinton has not followed the legislation or sought to influence its outcome. "Mr. Cantu is a friend and a longtime supporter of Democratic causes," Phil Singer said when asked about Cantu's relationship with the senator. ...
A longtime local surgeon who left the hospital said Cantu and the other hospital board members referred to the political contributions as "protection money."
"They said, 'We've got to give this money to Hillary so we can be exempt from the bill,' " said the surgeon, who asked that his name not be used.
Horse trading is defined as "negotiation accompanied by mutual concessions and shrewd bargaining". Politics, whether one likes it or not, is the art of trading something for something; only pacifists and chumps trade something for nothing. Maybe it's a mistake to think about the border fence with Mexico as a legal problem with national security overtones. Maybe it's a business problem that won't be settled on the border so much as on the bundling of contributions and votes. So, does the hospital get affected? Does the border fence get built?