How Politicians Get Their Money

I was just talking with Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey about a legislative matter but since he's running for governor next year I asked ...
by | October 2, 2009
 

Dunn I was just talking with Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey about a legislative matter but since he's running for governor next year I asked him how the campaign was going. He said it's already full time, with speaking engagements and appearances through the day, nearly every day -- 10 months before the primary day and more than a year ahead of the general election.

That may come as no surprise but as Ramsey himself points out, it wasn't ever thus. Ramsey says he's been reading the memoirs of Winfield Dunn, who served as Tennessee's governor back in the early 1970s.

When Dunn ran, he didn't start campaigning until April of the year in which the election was actually being held. Ramsey lapped him by more than a full year on that, starting up his efforts this past March. And Dunn didn't have to worry about fundraising. Back then, a wealthy backer or two was all it took, whereas today statewide candidates like Ramsey may spend 75 percent of their time raising money.

It's an interesting question, whether it's more corrupting to have a few rich friends, or spending all your time making yourself beholden to everybody.

When I've reported stories about rich, self-financing candidates, I have never failed to come across voters who say they're glad he or she can't be corrupted, because he comes to the table with his own money. I finally got around the other day to reading The New Yorker's August profile of Michael Bloomberg -- the city's richest resident, as well as its mayor.

To people who aspire to become mayor of New York City in the traditional way, by suffering countless fund-raisers in apartments far larger than their own and attending interminable Democratic club meetings with the same cast of hangers-on, year after year, Bloomberg presents a conundrum. Many in the city's political class believe that he's been a good, if overrated, executive, and acknowledge that his ability to forgo the shaming hat-in-hand routine has proved far more valuable in warding off corruption than they would have liked to admit.

Yet the whole point of the article is to question whether Bloomberg has amassed too much power.

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