Stimulus and Politics 101
By George Lightbourn
It is a fact of life in modern-day politics that companies with government contracts tend to participate fully in our political process. In other words, they write checks.
Companies write checks to PACs and make soft money contributions. Their executives and senior managers write checks to candidates. More often than not, their spouses write checks too.
There is nothing necessarily nefarious about all of this political participation. These companies and the people who run them are exercising their Constitutional rights and almost always do so within the rules, which frustrates the good government types who regularly conduct modern-day snipe hunts attempting to link contracts to contributions.
But, it is also an axiom among political fundraisers that government contractors are fertile ground for potential contributors.
Now interject the federal economic stimulus funds - the unprecedented hundreds of billions of dollars that Washington intends to spray throughout the country - and one cannot help but wonder how much of that money will wind up funding political campaigns.
This just seems like a ripe opportunity for foul play, for a scurrilous contractor to put his or her thumb on the scale hoping to get that advantage that will guarantee that contract.
As we sit here today, no one would disagree that there should be no linkage between stimulus contracts and political contributions, but will there be? Will there be the occasional rogue politician who overtly makes that link? Yes. Is there the potential for an increasingly cynical public to expect there to see stories of stimulus pay-to-play? Yes.
Anyone paying attention for the last six months understands that two cornerstones of America; our economy and our government, are all about confidence. Yet, without the proper ground rules, we run the risk of a couple of shady deals undermine both institutions.
Months and years down the road, after Obama’s saintly aura has faded and the government auditors are untangling how the stimulus contracts were handed out and how the money was spent, let’s hope that they won’t uncover a deal of Madoff proportions that will leave America with a huge black eye. Now is the time, before the ink is dry on the stimulus package, to build a sturdy wall between the stimulus funding and politics. Not a dime of this money should show up in anyone’s campaign coffers. If such a wall is not part of the stimulus package, America should brace itself for stories the might make us forget all about Rod Blagojevich.
-February 3, 2009