Imagine that you are a CEO and you are looking to hire somebody for a temporary, two-year position that pays $174,000 a year, and may include access to highly sensitive information.
Somebody steps up and announces he will pay more than $3 million, most of it out of his own pocket, to be considered for this job. Would you be suspicious?
Let’s say you also needed to hire someone for a lower-ranking position, one which will have little power, and which will pay less than $72,000. A woman who could easily make more than that elsewhere borrows money, hits up friends, and spends more than $200,000 in an attempt to be a finalist for the position.
Would you say something is wrong here?
Well, guess what. It is wrong, and these are not imaginary scenarios. They are real-life examples of politics in Michigan this year. You might say we have the best representatives who can buy themselves a seat in Congress or the Legislature.
The first example here is that of David Trott, a Birmingham attorney who has been in the mortgage foreclosure business. Trott is trying to knock off Kerry Bentivolio, a freshman Republican congressman, in next Tuesday’s primary.
As of a month ago, he had raised $3.4 million for this race, all but a million out of his own pocket. And you can bet he spent a lot more in July. He’s lucky, in that establishment Republicans want him to win, so they’ve kicked in some money too.
Up in the 4th District, which centers on Midland, rich businessman Paul Mitchell doesn’t have any political experience, but he too would like to be a congressman. So, as of the end of June, he had shelled out nearly $2 million of his own money to try to buy, or technically win, the Republican primary.
Almost nobody else has contributed to Mitchell’s campaign; his other donations amounted to only $10,000. Most party regulars are backing State Senator John Moolenaar. But Mitchell has outspent them more than four to one, and leads in the polls.
My other example above comes from a state senate race in south Oakland County. State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton is term-limited, and challenging incumbent Democrat Vincent Gregory in the primary. Another State Rep, Vicki Barnett, is running too.
This is an overwhelmingly Democratic district where the primary is the deciding election. Lipton had raised $210,000 as of a month ago, twice as much as her opponents combined.
Here’s what’s oddest about this. Politically, there isn’t much if any difference between Lipton, Barnett or Gregory. And whoever wins isn’t going to have any power to speak of in Lansing.
Republicans are still going to control the Senate. Lipton has been a good state legislator, but you have to wonder … was this the best way she could have spent $200,000?
In any event, I think it ought to be clear that our political system is hopelessly compromised by money. If a Constitutional amendment is indeed the only way to fix this, that’s what we need to do.