Friday, December 15, 2006

Paying for Parties

Well now that I've picked a fight with my fellow bloggers over the subject of paying for inaugurals, perhaps we can back away from the conflagration and take a closer look at the whole issue of paying for parties.

The proposition has been made that it is hypocritical of Deval Patrick (and, as it were, Mitt Romney) to assert that he is an "outsider" while he solicits contributions to his inaugural committee, in significant chunks, from well-connected corporate and political interests.

I think we need to start on common ground with the supposition that every incoming Governor is entitled to define the breadth, extent, and therefore cost, of his own inaugural celebration. To the extent that (as is the case in a relatively few jurisdictions) public funds are available for some portion of an inaugural ceremony (e.g., a swearing-in), those funds cannot (and should not) confine the Governor-elect from establishing events outside of that on his own (would anyone argue that a Governor cannot have a ball? Would anyone argue that it should be paid for with taxpayers' money?)

So, if we agree that an inaugural celebration is a proper event for the raising of private funds, the next question is, how much, and from whom? Here's where the rubber meets the road.

Naturally, the extent of the plan defines the amount of money to be raised. To the extent that one eschews the raising of money from within the political establishment, one must then either confine one's plans to a modest event (how does one succeed in raisiing money from people with no connection to politics?) or raise the ticket price the events so that ticket income alone fully covers the cost of the event. This alternative virtually guarantees that popular events would be beyond the reach of the "common man" and thus subject to criticism, if not simply poor attendance.

Setting all of that aside for a moment, the criticism in this controversy, coming from both left (via Common Cause) and right (the Republican Party) is that, by soliciting funds from corporations and their lawyers, lobbyists, etc., the Governor-elect taints his reputation as an "outsider" by creating potential official obligations to the donors.

Both critics contend that it creates an "appearance" of hypocrisy, conflict or impropriety for those with a real, apparent or potential interest in the policies forthcoming from the Patrick administration to be funding his inaugural events. By doing so, critics suggest, the donors create a relationship of undue favor or influence over the incoming administration's future actions.

This argument is falacious, as it ignores the natural and embedded dynamic of how political pressures work.

First, any incoming Governor has a well-founded understanding of, and appreciation for, those most responsible for his victory. They are representatives of the issues and causes to which the Governor-elect was most solicitous and has the greatest affinity. For these individuals and interest groups, contributions to his inaugural events are already superfluous, as they have already "delivered" (to use a term unduly susceptible to abuse). Their participation in any inaugural festivities does nothing to influence the relationship between them and the new administration -- it already exists.

For those businesses or political interest groups that would otherwise be antithetical to the Governor-elect's perceived agenda (for instance, that the opponents of Cape Wind --heh heh), do we presume that their refusal to sponsor some portion of the festivities would place them in a less advantageous position than they may have been? Or that, despite the Governor's natural opposition to their cause, the giving of money to an inaugural committee will somehow soften that opposition? (for instance, it is interesting to note that the largest single contributor ($410,000) to Bill Clinton's second inaugural was Marriott International, whose founder, Willard Marriott (the genesis of Mitt Romney's first name) was a Mormon.)

Must we assume in these instances that there is nothing at work here but a "quid pro quo" environment where all key players are focussed solely on political gain? I cannot be that cynical.

One must recognize that, in politics, the value of money alone is not that high. Politics is very much a social exercise in governing. It requires the interaction of individuals and groups to persuade decisionmakers. Success depends on both the message and the manner of its delivery. These are the keys to policymaking, not money itself. To the extent that money does "open doors," it is money given to campaign causes, not to fund a party at a convention center.

And it is axiomatic and logical that the people who make contributions to politically-related causes are those who are most connected to the political community. I would argue that even the most prudent of political outsiders would (and should) hesitate to risk insulting a significant segment of the political establishment by not asking, or refusing to accept, their participation in such an event.

If Patrick comes out of the gate in his first year and starts raising campaign money by the truckload from unions and other PACS, then by all means, fire away.

It is apparent that the "controversy" (manufactured as it is) over raising funds for inaugural balls is not unique to Deval Patrick or Massachusetts. It is being played out in much the same fashion in other states as well.

Wisconsin Democrat Jim Doyle's inaugural has a maximum contribution of $50,000 -- but in Wisconsin, the inaugural is run by the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha, which gets to keep unused funds. That's a clever way to insulate the Governor; but can you imagine the donnybrook in Boston among those elbowing to become the new inaugural sponsor?

In Connecticut, Governor-elect Jodi Rell is having a problem because of tough new laws passed in the wake of John Rowland's legal problems. Rowland paid for his previous inaugural celebrations in the same manner -- privately raised funds, principally coming from his political contributors.

The State of Texas provides for an inaugural committee by statute, and an inaugural fund to which anyone may contribute free of limitation. The financial reports are public information (unlike current private funds here). Excess funds are retained in an "endowment fund" and used for future events.

Here's an interesting look at the history of the California inaugural committee, alon g with a list of Aronold Schwartzenegger's inaugural sponsors. Apparently, Arnold's biggest controversy is the fact that he has named
Willie Brown as the emcee. Talk about insiders (is Arnold still an "outsider" or has he crossed over?)

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