How Much Will It Cost Me To Buy Influence?

From time to time I’ve donated money to various causes or candidates. On occasion, the sum has been substantial for me (but plainly middle-of-the-pack for the candidate). Even for my biggest donations, I’ve gotten some fairly cheesy certificates, computer-generated letters, maybe a lapel pin. Not much more.

Well, fine, presumably I’m donating to the guy because I like his policies. But what if I have a particular policy that I’d like him to advance that isn’t yet on his platform, or that he’s not pushing as much as I should?

We hear about “buying access,” or about the “powerful donors” to whom various candidates are beholden. How much do you have to give before anyone gives a hoot about your actual opinions (as opposed to just cashing your checks and numbering you among the foot soldiers)?

E.g.: Let’s say I have extremely strong feelings on a subject that is (1) conceivably compatible with the candidate’s/party’s overall political philosophy; but (2) not currently being talked about or pushed by him or his opponent (maybe I want to bolster free trade with Paraguay, or increase research funding for oil shale to energy conversion, or stop ethnic warfare in Sudan – to take a few examples that could, in theory, not clash too much with most candidate’s baseline agenda, but probably aren’t currently prominent on their radar screen either).

I don’t want the ego trip of sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom, don’t particularly want an autographed photo; I just want to determine the level at which my contributions are significant enough that someone of moderate influence within the machine will say “Hey, maybe we ought to give some thought to Paraguay, some of our substantial donors are all worked up about it . . .” or “Let’s be careful not to P.O. the oil shale guys.” Or, failing that, just the level at which they actually pretend to ask/care about my opinions (from time to time I’ve gotten “surveys” from candidates I don’t even support, but I have little confidence in their methodology: “Do you (1) support; (2) strongly support; or (3) hysterically support the President’s valiant efforts to keep all Americans safe from terror?”).

Alternatively, what is the level of donation at which people are able to “negotiate,” e.g., call up a party and say “I was thinking of giving $X to The Candidate, but first I’d like to make sure he shares my positions on the Sudan . . . ?”

I’m trying to figure out how the system, as currently configured, works, and what the price of real “influence” is, so no need to tell me how corrupt it is or that influence peddling is wrong (I agree). And assume for purposes of this question that the donor has the ability lawfully to direct as much money as is necessary toward the candidate or a suitable proxy (closely-affiliated PAC, etc.).

Buying influence is easy…but how much you have you pay depends on what you want your “influence” to do for you. Here in Massachusetts (which is a corrupt, democratic party state). You can buy a judge for as little as $10,000.00 A state senator will cost you more; a state rep less. For example, you are a wealthy developer, and you wish to develop a piece of land…however, this land is within 200 feet of a sream (there is a state environmentallaw prohibiting human habitations within 200 ft. of a sream).SO, you need to get a variance approved, by both the town and the state Dept. of Environment. You will have to pay the selectmen, and possibly several other officials…it might take a bit of cash, but you will get your variance.
Say yopu are a crooked businessman who is facing criminal chrges…a fewjuducious contributions will go a long way toward easing your concerns. Uusally, you cannot bribe a public official directly…you must go to a middleman (a “bagman”)…he will explain what is required.
Oh, and don’t forget…you cannot contribute more than $1000 to any official’s re-election fund. You can however, give an unlimited amount ot a PAC-type fund.
Good luck!

Florida’s legislature is almost openly purchasable, but expensive, due to Disney/Drug/Real Estate dough flooding in. 5X the Mas rate, but easier to get.

As stated, it depends on what you want.

I am a former intern of Senator Santorum’s (actually Congressman Santorum at the time). When my uncle wanted a letter of recommendation from the Senator to Governor Ridge of Pennsylvania, in support of an appointment to the Pennsylvania State Board of Pharmacy, all it took was a phone call from me and a fax of his CV.

Now, my uncle was certainly qualified for the board, and it didn’t hurt that he was a Republican. But the letter did help. And my influence in this particular case was bought for four months of unpaid labor when I was a college student.

Let’s say you have a keen interest in your local congressman. As stated before, Federal election laws limit your contribution to $2,000 per election. You are not going to become a go-to guy for a congressman for that amount, considering that his campaign probably costs around $1 million to run.

You have to show that your views have a constituency, and you can’t put a dollar amount on that. But if you organize a lunch for Congressman Doe focused around Sudan, shale, or whathaveyou that will bring twenty, thirty, or fifty people who will donate the max, now you’re getting somewhere, fast.

There’s two ways of looking at this event. One, you raised $60,000 or whatever for the candidate, so he has to listen to you. It is certain that the congressman will not see it this way. He will see you as someone who can organize people to help him in his campaign, and therefore you have become a useful leader and point of contact in mobilizing those people in future campaigns. Chances are good that you’ll talk and get your chance to make your case on whatever issue, and he will politely listen, if not agree with you.

There are other ways to do this, of course. If you manage to put together a group of 200 people who will donate $200 each, you’re also getting somewhere. Also, did you ever notice that politicans like to know the local pastors and ministers? They might not raise money, but they can tap into a lot of people who can be mobilized for canvassing neighborhoods, etc. All of this has to be scaled up for senators, governors, and presidents, of course.

The bottom line is that the overwhelming majority of politicans have no interest in being bought and sold, but they do like to know people who can help them in their campaigns. It’s a fine line, but the former is a felony and the latter is good politics.

Yeah, that’s why I want to assume that this is legal and to sort of disregard the campaign finance laws (I’m assuming that it’s always somewhat possible to do this, quite lawfully, by making clear that you’re using a PAC, or some other affiliated-movement ( as a stand-in for direct contributions to the candidate, which are capped). Judicial elections are a separate issue, because there are judicial ethics codes, but as long as the campaign finance laws are complied with, it’s been my impression that candidates can more or less explicitly pledge to their large contributors that they will deliver on a particular policy issue (I suppose criminal questions could come in if the issue were not just one of foreign policy or trade, but of an executive pardon for a particular convict; but even there I’m not sure that the donor can’t explicitly link his contribution to the desired outcome – IANA campaign finance lawyer, though . . . ).

I take your point on organizing fundraisers and developing a network of other contributors (this seems to be what the GOP Pioneers or other elite fundraisers do – harangue 40 of their friends into giving $1,000 apiece). But you do hear about indiviudals who, without having much of a grassroots constituency – here I’m thinking of the Fanjuls or other Florida sugar barons who (per oversimplified pejorative description) “manage to control U.S. sugar tariffs although they only benefit half a dozen families.”

… and hundreds, if not thousands, of workers in the sugar industry.

I don’t mean to imply that money does not help with access, but money does not equal access. There’s always more to it than that.

(By the way, remember when so many people thought that Ross Perot was simply going to buy the 1992 election? Look how well that turned out.)

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From “Plunkett of Tammany Hall”: