Yesterday’s Globe had an article that provides a glimpse into the shadowy world of big money political fund raising. The US Attorney has charged Martin Raffol, a high ranking executive in a big Massachusetts constructions company with illegally funneling $12,000 to the campaigns of Congressmen Barney Frank, Stephen Lynch, Mike Capuano and William Delahunt. The allegations are that Raffol persuaded other individuals to write checks to various politicians and then reimbursed those donors with his (or his company’s) own funds, thereby circumventing limits on how much an individual may donate to a candidate.
Before anyone brands this as a Democratic scandal, the Globe story reminds us that this prosecution only targets violations of Federal law for illegal donations to Federal candidates (i.e., Congressmen). Raffol allegedly used the same technique to make $30,000 in additional donations – all illegal under state law – to candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, the state legislature, district attorney, Mayor of Boston and Boston city council. Presumably some state agency – the Attorney General, perhaps? – will soon prosecute those violations in state court.
If these allegations are true, Mr. Raffol clearly violated the law but his behavior is not uncommon (he was just unlucky enough to become ensnared in the FBI’s Diane Wilkerson corruption investigation). In the shadowy underworld of big money political fund raising, this practice is well known. The recipient politicians happily turn a blind eye to the practice while the money rolls into their campaign accounts. There’s never an express quid pro quo, just an unstated “understanding” that subtly nudges government decisions in a way that will ultimately be to the donor’s benefit.
Why does the system work this way? Because in politics, money is king. The pundits, whose salaries are paid from these funds, say so. The media, whose stations and papers profit handsomely from paid political advertising agree. So it must be true.
A profile of disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich in the July 26, 2010 edition of The New Yorker (“What about me?” abstract available here) illustrates the transformative effect prolific fund raising has on a politician. Before being elected governor, Blagojevich, the son-in-law of Chicago political titan Dick Mell, served in Congress. Here’s how Pete Giangreco, a former Blagojevich’s media adviser, describes the transformation:
“The moment he transitioned from a backbench kind of nobody congressman to a serious candidate for governor was when he filed with a million dollars,” Pete Giangreco said, citing Blagojevich’s financial reports. “Overnight, Rod went from Dick Mell’s schmucko son-in-law congressman with the goofy hairdo to ‘Holy shit, this guy could be governor.’ And he never forgot that lesson, that the thing that made him real was money. After that, the thing that made people come to him, to advise him or advocate on policy or whatever – your advice was only as good as how much money you could raise.”