Friday, October 17, 2014

Taking The Fifth, Rich Incumbents, Poor Challengers

Incumbents are much favored and pampered creatures. The Captains of Industry throw dollars their way, and major media outlets pet them shamelessly. It is not at all surprising then that U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty should be richer than Republican challenger Mark Greenberg in campaign donations, even as the supporters of Mrs. Esty chide Mr. Greenberg for being a wealthy and successful businessman. In American politics, with precious few exceptions, incumbency trumps personal wealth. Of course, some politicians -- U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro and U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal, both millionaires many times over, come to mind – are fortunate enough to be both wealthy and incumbent progressives.

One paper recently noted that Mr. Greenberg has $118,174 in his campaign account as of September 30, while Mrs. Esty has $923,000 on hand. Mr. Greenberg’s relative penury has forced him to break open his own private piggy bank and lend his campaign $592,500.

So then, where did Mrs. Esty’s campaign loot come from?

Political action committees ponied up $208,140 during the filing period that ran from July 1-Sept. 30. Among campaign contributors tossing money her way were the National Association of Realtors, the Sierra Club and Democratic House colleagues Zoe Lofgren of California and John Sarbanes of Maryland, among many others. Mrs. Esty was not alone in being so favored. Incumbent U.S. Representative Jim Himes of the 4th District hauled in $1.7 million, while his relatively impoverished Republican opponent Dan Debicella reported having received a paltry $114,314. Democratic incumbent Joe Courtney of the 2nd District has $704,719 on hand, while his Republican opponent Lori Hopkins Cavanagh pulled in only $41,852. Democratic incumbent John Larson of the impregnable 1st District pulled in $1,684,872, while his Republican opponent, Matthew Coreywho refers to himself correctly in his campaign literature as the real working class candidate in the contest, garnered a more modest $20,212.

The incumbency vs. challenger playground is, to employ a phrase that often has fallen gracefully from the lips of multi-millionaire incumbent U.S. Senator and former Attorney General Blumenthal, NOT a level playing field.

Following the conviction of former Governor John Rowland for depriving the public of honest services in 2005, Connecticut’s General Assembly was moved to pass campaign finance regulations that seemed to prevent state contractors from purchasing the political services of incumbent politicians in return for campaign contributions. Since then, the noble effort of politicians to place themselves beyond the reach of filthy lucre has suffered several setbacks. Politicians in Connecticut may now escape the campaign contribution prison they had created for themselves by shifting money from various private and public campaign financing streams.

Jon Pelto, gone but not forgiving from the gubernatorial campaign trail, noted on his blog, “Wait, What,” the successful attempt on the part of Mr. Malloy to overcome ethical boundaries: “Not only has Malloy taken the $6.2 million in public funds for his re-election campaign this year, but he has also inappropriately tapped into nearly $4 million in tainted money that has been laundered through the Democratic State Central Committee and another $3.5 million that has been funneled through a political action committee associated with Malloy’s campaign.

One thing, it seems, will never change.  In respect of political incumbents, the old Billie Holiday song “God Bless The Child” is more than prophetic: “Them that's got shall have/Them that's not shall lose/So the Bible said and it still is news.” At this point, perhaps the only way to level the playing field between incumbents and challengers may be through term limits, which would rotate politicians bellying up to the campaign contribution bar and remove, at least for a time, the insuperable advantages incumbency brings to “politicians for life” like Mrs. DeLauro and Mr. Larson.

So far, many mainstream outlets reporting on Connecticut’s political races have risen in opposition to cynical moves by the Malloy administration to effectively vacate the state’s campaign finance regulations. And, of course, the announced mission of journalism is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. In a recent editorial, the Hartford Courant expressed its displeasure with the “state Democratic Party,” which was “just begging for punishment by regulators and by the voters.”

Now that endorsement time has rolled around, it should be interesting to see whether papers in Connecticut are willing to administer condign punishment by withholding their endorsements of the destructors elect of the Democratic Party.
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