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Political Animal

Money Talks

By Brian Morton | Posted 2/15/2006

Part of the reason a lot of campaign-finance reform dies on the vine stems from a simple truth: The U.S. Supreme Court has equated money with speech. So the wealthy always get more attention from lawmakers, because they’ve got a bigger bullhorn aimed at elected officials than the average working Joe or Jane.

Thankfully, louder voices in the media and in commercial political speech don’t always equal votes at the ballot box; after all, in the end, votes come from regular people who herd into the polling places and make their choices. Just because Mr. Moneybags (think the guy from the Monopoly game) can prance into the booth with a wallet full of thousands and a checkbook balance with two commas in it doesn’t entitle him to pull the lever that many times. It just gives him and his friends the opportunity to purchase air time, direct mail, and billboards, and to drop thousands of dollars into his chosen candidates’ campaign funds. And if he gets his pals to join in with him, it allows their candidates to have a much louder and more persistent voice than their opposition.

So it is understandable that when Gov. Robert “Smootherino” Ehrlich steps out to veto a bill at his side is a representative of a company founded by a man who was once the richest man in America. And that bill has an effect on that representative’s company, which has been in the practice of underfunding their employees’ health care, thereby forcing the state to make up the difference through the public till.

But in today’s political climate, where “lobbyists” are looked upon with the same warmth as, say, “lepers,” it is understandable if one doesn’t want to be seen cavorting with them. It’s one thing to take the money, it’s yet another to been seen with the people who hand it to you. Therefore, it’s understandable that the governor would go on a national television program and deny that said company ever threw him a thousand-dollar-a-head fundraiser, as the governor did on CNBC on Jan. 11.

 

CNBC Host Ron Insana: A gentleman by the last name of Lowthers pointed to a recent $1,000 a head fund-raising dinner for Governor Ehrlich hosted by Wal-Mart.

Gov. Ehrlich: That is absolutely incorrect. Wal-Mart has not hosted any fund-raisers—I’m looking at my staff here—The bottom line is that Wal-Mart would support a pro-business candidate.

 

So it’s understandable that it would seem a tad uncomfortable if an invite surfaced reading:

 

WAL-MART STORES INC. cordially invite you to a reception honoring Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Governor of Maryland, Wednesday December 15, 2004 Annapolis Marriott, Annapolis Maryland . . . Enclosed is my check for ________ @ $1,000 per person . . . Make checks payable to Bob Ehrlich For Maryland Committee.

 

It is understandable that Gov. Smooth would meet with the members of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and tell them they should only give money to people who will be at their beck and call. According to an article in the Feb. 7 Washington Post, Ehrlich told them that “the era of [Democratic lawmakers] shaking you down for checks and then voting against your interests [is over]. . . . Look at how people vote and act accordingly.” In other words, the governor is letting them know if they want to give him their money, he’ll be their man. Bobby Smooth has hung out the “quid pro quo” sign.

Echoing his comments to the same group in 2004, when he told them to “get dangerous,” against presumed “anti-business” lawmakers, Ehrlich also said that the 17 veto overrides by the legislature were meant to embarrass him. “I didn’t leave Capitol Hill to be needlessly embarrassed. . . . I am tired of it. I am tired of it.”

Except here’s another embarrassing fact for the governor: According to a Sun analysis, published Feb. 7, the recent budget surplus trumpeted by the governor (and being spent almost as fast) came from tax and fee increases—money out of the pockets of you, that guy without megabucks who has all the power in the voting booth. According to that analysis, 28 percent of that turnaround came due to those flush taxes, those tunnel and bridge toll increases, and so on, whereas only 18 percent of it came due to Ehrlich’s vaunted budget cutting.

So then, if you took the governor at his word, you should “get dangerous.” Your property taxes went up, but Wal-Mart shouldn’t have to pay health care. You get dinged two extra bucks every time you go from Catonsville to Essex, but Smooth Bobby Ehrlich gets free helicopter rides from Sinclair Broadcast Group. And trust me on this one, however loud you shout will pale in comparison to the amount of TV airtime the Re-Elect Bob Ehrlich campaign will have this fall when you’ll see commercials on every channel, telling you how wonderful he’s been for you and how moderate and great he’ll be for four more years.

Except the money to pay for those commercials will have come from fat cats who’ll stand next to him when, later this spring, he vetoes bills passed between now and April 11. So it’s easy to understand why he’s talking to them and not you. You don’t think they’d give him all that money for nothing, do you?

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