Publisher’s Corner: Politics for Sale


Legislative Gazette photo by James Gormley

You have got to know that politics are for sale in this country, with an emphasis on New York. Bessie Smith was absolutely right when she sang, “There are lots of ways to sell it, baby.” A slew of articles make the point that our politicians are on the take, maybe not illegally but on the take nevertheless. Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio are among the major offenders. Both of them hire people who will get out there and recruit experts in hauling in money. There may be a distinction between raising money for your own pocketbook and for your campaigns but if you follow the bouncing ball, there ain’t much of a distinction.

Why do people who obviously want — and often get — something from the government give so much money to these politicians? Come on! We weren’t born yesterday. They want to get things from the legislature and the governor to help line their pockets. We are talking about real estate people and taxicab people and restaurant people. They give money because the rewards they will reap for doing so are huge in proportion to what they are putting out. It becomes very seductive. People brag that they know the governor or the mayor or the police commissioner. Sometimes they get invited to parties held at the places where the president or the governor or the mayor lives.

One of the reasons why we need a free press is that they are capable of figuring out who is buying influence. They use whatever is available to them. When pressed, politicians like Andrew Cuomo are likely to tell you that sunlight is the best antiseptic. The Gray Lady New York Times reported on a rooftop $25,000 fundraiser held right before the “Big Ugly” state budget was passed. Most people reading this will have no idea what’s in the budget, which is why favors can be dispensed without negative feedback. Mayor de Blasio also is no stranger to dispensing favors to those who need something from the City (capitalized because it IS the City.)

Lobbyists have earned themselves a bad name. They’re perceived as predators who are eating the people’s lunch. One of them once told me, “Just see it as a big bag of goodies and all you have to do is put your hand in and take something out.” It is no coincidence that some of the most successful lobbyists were once employed by the very politicians who were in a position to reward them when they became lobbyists. It is also not unheard of for the lobbyists to advise their clients to give money to those politicians. Of course, I have a relative who was once told by a paramour, “You’ve got to give a little to get a little.” To carry that analogy a bit further, a number of years ago a goo-goo (good government) lobbyist who campaigned for ethics legislation suggested that lobbyists were the handmaidens of politicians. At the time, the politicians were so upset that they guy lost his job for telling the truth. We’re beyond that now. It’s interesting. Younger voters seem to have less tolerance for the old ways of doing things.

Our legislatures are leadership-centered. As Robert Michels wrote in his Iron Law of Oligarchy, when you get a crowd, one person usually rises to the top and calls the shots. So you have to figure that the key players get most of the attention from the lobbyists. That’s why their ex- employees become such effective lobbyists until the moment a new group gets in and there is a changing of the guard. Just think of all the Republican lobbyists who are out of luck since the Republicans lost the Senate unless, of course, they recruited some influential Democrats to their firms.

The whole thing is pretty ugly even if it is guaranteed the Constitution.