Monday, May 24, 2010

Sarah Ferguson for Senate

May 24, 2010, 6:25 a.m.
[For BP disaster see, "Obama As Finger-Pointer-In-Chief," May 18, 2010; "Big Oil + Big Corruption = Big Mess," May 10, 2010; "P&L: Public Loss From Private Profit," May 3, 2010.]

What's Scandal in London is SOP in Washington
Just Business -- As Usual

(bought to you by*)

Sarah Ferguson has stepped in it again.

But is what she did any different from what goes on in Washington every day?

In case you missed the story, Sarah Ferguson married Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth's second son, the Duke of York, in 1986, making her a member of the Royal Family as the Duchess of York. They were divorced in 1996.

Her judgment has not always been the best. Indeed, as The Guardian puts it, "The duchess . . . has a long history of excruciating misjudgments and has been in financial difficulties for some time. Her most notorious escapade occurred when she was pictured on a yacht, while still married, having her toes sucked by her then financial adviser Johnny Bryant." Stephen Bates, "Sarah Ferguson offered access to Prince Andrew for cash, says tabloid; Duchess of York allegedly caught on film demanding £500,000 in order to 'open doors' for reporter posing as businessman," The Guardian, May 23, 2010.

So, what's she done now? As The Guardian story continues,

[S]he was exposed by a News of the World sting operation in which she promised to obtain access to her former husband in return for £500,000. [Photo Credit: News of the World.]

In probably her most personally damaging mistake throughout a somewhat gaffe-strewn career, the Duchess of York appears to have fallen for the Sunday newspaper's undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood, who specialises in exposés. . . .

In a taped interview . . . the duchess is seen telling the man she supposed was a foreign businessman that she could obtain access for him to the prince, who acts as a quasi-official British trade envoy promoting deals for UK firms around the world.

Demanding a payment of £500,000 . . . she told the reporter: 'That opens up everything you would ever wish for. I can open any door you want, and I will for you. Look after me and he'll look after you … you'll get it back tenfold.'"
Shocking! Scandalous! An embarrassment to the Royal Family, to the Duke and former Duchess of York, to all Brits who revel in the monarchy.

And then I got to thinking.

Why is it that we don't consider what is going on in Washington, even while you read this, equally shocking and scandalous?

What am I talking about?

Think about it. How do our elected officials justify their receipt of five-to-seven-figure cash contributions from those who stand to benefit (or lose) from those officials' votes and interventions in government decisions (e.g., softening safety standards for offshore drilling, coal mines, workplaces generally, multi-billion-dollar "bailouts")? Why is that not considered the buying of votes? Why do we not call it "bribery," and prosecute it as a criminal offense?

Because, say our officials (and those who collect the money for them), "No one can buy my vote with a 'campaign contribution.'"

So, then, we sometimes ask, "Why do your donors give you such large amounts of money, and spend equally large amounts on lobbyists?"

"Oh," say the officials, "all they want, and all they get, is 'access;' the ability to tell me their story directly."

Put aside your cynicism for a moment. Let us assume, even if it doesn't pass the laugh test, that campaign contributions don't sway votes as such; that all they purchase is the opportunity for "access."

Is that valuable? How much is "access" worth? Ask Sarah Ferguson. She runs in those circles. She has a pretty good sense of its market value. In this instance she thought it worth $700,000.

In Washington, some have paid more, some have paid less.

All have found it a worthwhile investment, even if all it got them was "access."

Because in the "pay to play" town that Washington has become, you're likely to find the committee chair, or senator, you need to talk to about your business is "too busy" to see you without your first coming up with what Sarah Ferguson was demanding.

In London, promises Ms. Ferguson, "you'll get it back tenfold." In Washington, the return on a campaign contribution "investment" runs closer to 1000-to-one. Give a million, get a billion. (See supporting data at Nicholas Johnson, "Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000," Des Moines Register, July 21, 1996, p. C2.

Yet in London a 10-to-one return is a scandal. And in Washington a 1000-to-one return is just "business -- as usual."

There are going to be some Senate seats open this year. If only she'd thought to come here and run for one of them. More money; no scandal. Oh, well. Maybe next time.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson
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1 comment:

Nick said...

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