So you want to buy a legislator.
You’ve come to the right place. Honest Al’s Discount Political Emporium has the state’s largest selection of new and used lawmakers, and we’re ready to deal. It doesn’t matter what model you want — conservatives, liberals, ultra-left city slickers, alt-right country bumpkins — we’ve got ‘em. And at prices even the lowliest lobbyist can afford.
Before I show you what’s on sale, let me give you a few tips, stuff only us insiders know. You may think you want a traditional wheeler-dealer. You know, a fat, white guy with a sweaty brow, an ill-fitting suit, and a comb-over. But that model went out of fashion back in the last century. While there are still plenty of those stereotypical boobs taking up legislative space, nobody pays attention to them. If you need their vote, it can be had for a nip bottle and a coupon for free beef jerky.
Likewise, don’t waste your money on bright young things. While they have loads of energy, they burn it off fast. Before you know it, they’re out of gas, complaining that the system is rigged against them (they’re not wrong about that) and quitting the Legislature to take jobs as lobbyists or bureaucrats. You’re left with nothing for your investment.
No, what you need is a politician who’s reliable, one who understands that what’s best for this state is whatever you say is best. Not so smart as to have original thoughts, but not so dumb as to fail to appreciate your advice. They’re not flashy, but they become committee chairs and members of leadership.
The most important thing to remember about buying influence is that it’s sort of illegal. I say sort of, because, like most statutes dealing with political finance, the law banning lobbyists from making campaign contributions to legislators during a session has more loopholes than there are potholes on Main Street. So don’t worry. That mumbo jumbo won’t be a problem. You can be the operator of your very own representative or senator, and there’s very little the legal system can do about it. Why? Because — and here’s the beautiful part — your personal pol will be the one making those laws.
According to an excellent investigative article by Naomi Schalit of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, the state’s ethics statutes are clear in their intent. “If public confidence in government is to be maintained and enhanced,” the law’s preamble reads, “it is not enough that public officials avoid acts of misconduct. They must also scrupulously avoid acts which may create an appearance of misconduct.”
If you’re thinking that sinks your chances of exerting undue influence over elected officials, think again. As Schalit discovered, “[T]hose are nice words that don’t appear to carry much influence with some legislators, many of whom edge up to within a hair’s breadth of the law without actually crossing it.”
Her story lists case after case of lawmakers raking in dough from lobbyists by charging them for fun-packed events such as a “Legislative Chairman’s Breakfast” (tickets ran from $100 to $5,000), with proceeds going to the Maine Democratic Party. The state Republican Party put on a “Breakfast Before the Gavel Drops” (seats went for $100 to $2,000) with the cash being funneled to seven GOP-affiliated PACs. Essentially, both these affairs served as money-laundering schemes, whereby donations were recycled to help the very legislators you’re not allowed to contribute to.
There are also “policy discussions” and “dialogues” put on by legislative “experts” on various topics. Entrance to these events requires a hefty fee, but the “experts” are well aware of who paid to hear them publicly expose their ignorance, and they’re grateful to attendees for their polite applause. For those with a lower tolerance for boredom, there are charity events organized by legislators, during which special interests are coerced into giving money to local causes, thereby enhancing the sponsoring politicians’ reputations.
There’s currently a bill in the Legislature to prohibit lobbyists from making these thinly disguised bribes, but like I said, the people deciding its fate are the same ones you’ve bought and paid for. Plausible deniability comes standard on all models.
It’s sort of like an extended warranty.