Sunday, November 25, 2007

"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?


Blogger Unknown said...

The federal system (states v. central) amplifies this result. Both parties will fight like cats and dogs in DC, but back home they are united in assuring they "get their share" - sometimes 1/50th, sometimes proportional, but often the system punishes merit and rewards compromise leading to consensus in service of a constituency, managed by a process (so Congress need not appear responsible). No place for intellect and judgment in this mix.

A pity. Better we abandoned Federalism and moved to a parliamentary system than suffer this nonsense, since the easiest compromise is to spend more money. I'm a big fan of Maurice McTigue. He holds out hope that eventually we'll care enough to fix this.

11/25/2007 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger geoffb said...

They say "checks ranging from $500 to $2300" but $640,000 divided by the 300 donors equals an average of $2133.34 per donor. Not too many must have written checks for anything but the maximum.

I wonder if any of those doctors ever looked into the details of Hillary-care. I don't remember doctors being treated all that well in that proposal.

11/25/2007 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

Looking at geoffb’s numbers the whole thing looks like a kickback game.

One would doubt that even 300 doctors work in that city.

Further, one would doubt that the citizens of that city could afford to donate $2133 per person.

There would appear to a “reimbursement” system beyond the prying eyes of the Feds.

One would think Obama would blow the lid off of such a syndicate if he expects to survive this political season.

11/25/2007 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger geoffb said...

Well they do say,
"doctors and other McAllen area medical professionals who wrote more than $145,000 in checks to Clinton."

which could be covered by just over 63 "medical professionals" at $2300 each.

I always love it when a news item uses a specific like "doctors" and then an all inclusive non-specific like "medical professionals" so that no one can tell the difference between a doctor, nurse, orderly, or hospital janitor. It always means there is something to hide that still has to be reported.

So if 64 "doctors and other medical professionals" contributed $145,000 then that leaves 236 to contribute $495,000 at $2097.46 each on an average income of $28,660. That's a stretch but not as much as the "cattle-gate" one of turning $1000 into $100,000 in a year by reading the Wall Street Journal. That got a pass in the press, so I expect this to also

11/26/2007 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger Sparks fly said...

This is probably redundant and I just missed it in the previous remarks or it is so well known that no one bothers to mention it.

But just in case it is not completely clear, here goes.

Some unnamed third party friend of the Clintons has more than likely brought a big bag of cash into town and handed out two or three thousand bucks to each of these interested parties and they in turn made these contributions to Hillary's campaign in order to circumvent the election contribution laws. I do not know this for a fact but historically this is the reality. There may be some new wrinkle on the process such as the contributors get their 2 grand back after the election.

Tell me it isn't so.

11/27/2007 03:24:00 PM  

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