Poetic justice for campaign contributors

The behavior of the human species, especially when under pressure, is demonstrated with remarkable clarity in both sports and politics. Every day is different; some individuals rise to the occasion; others fail with the misfortune of it being in the public limelight.

Last week I was in Washington, DC watching the Cardinals fail in probably the three most humiliating fashions in baseball: Game 1: blowing a 6-1 lead; Game 2: getting trounced 10-0; and Game 3: losing in extra innings.

However, my spirits brightened when, while there, I came across an on-line article by St. Louis Post-Dispatch political reporter, Jake Wagman, who said:

The Redbirds are in Washington this week, which does more than allow capital Cardinal fans to see their hometown team.

It gives hometown politicians a chance to score some re-election cash.

Ever since the Montreal Expos moved to D.C. and became the Nationals in 2005, Washington’s other players — members of Congress —have watched the team’s schedule for opportunities to bolster their campaign accounts.

In previous years, St. Louis U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay has held a fundraiser at the ballpark when the Cardinals played the Nationals.

On Tuesday night, supporters of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt paid $1,000 to watch the Cardinals bullpen and defense implode in an 8-6 loss.

Tonight, U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan will ask his fans for the same amount to watch the second game of tonight’s series at Nationals Park.

While Carnahan — a St. Louis Democrat whose district was a casualty of redistricting — doesn’t know what he’ll be running for yet, the Nationals are wise to welcome his party to the game.

Political fund-raising, particularly when the dollars are as high as the event is ostentatious, just does not fit my definition of the people’s democracy. So the fact that 65 months before his next general election, Senator Blunt was shilling for money, and his special event turned into a debacle (at least entertainment-wise), did not sadden me a bit.

But I’m a bi-partisan curmudgeon about political fund-raisers. The fact that those who donated $1,000 each to Russ Carnahan only to see a Cardinal drubbing also seemed to have an element of justice. That’s because they were donating to Russ Carnahan at the same time that he is running for ….. nothing. As is not the case with Blunt, I generally appreciate Russ Carnahan’s voting record. But that doesn’t justify the absurdity of asking supporters to donate $1,000 for him to remain a place-holder to either run in Missouri’s refashioned Second Congressional District or for the esteemed and taxing position of Missouri Lieutenant-Governor. And what happens to that money if Russ Carnahan decides to run for nothing? Well just ask the one-time supporters of Anthony Wiener who funded his five-million- dollar war chest. Wiener could return the money to contributors as an honorable person would do. Or he can hold on to it forever in the hope that, like the Phoenix, he will rise from the ashes and once again run for office.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must acknowledge that, during one game, I sat in the luxury box of a powerful Washington, DC law firm. A good friend from high school is a partner in the firm. I do no business with the firm and would never do so without first reimbursing them for the tickets I used.

Almost every summer, four or five friends from high school in St. Louis get together for two or three days of Cardinals baseball. We all tend to bleed Cardinal red, but with an asterisk. This is the team with which we grew up, but things are not as pure as they once were when the team was owned by a bullying beer baron. We still want to see the team win, but we also get a perverse sense of pleasure out of seeing them fail, because we can’t let recent practices by team management go unnoticed. Primary owner Bill DeWitt (“I like capitalism, if you take the risk and I get the reward”) has legally blackmailed the city of St. Louis and the state of Missouri out of millions of dollars to further line his coffers, already estimated at more than four billion dollars (that’s billion with a ‘b’). The team built a new stadium that at best is the equal of Busch Stadium II, but clearly was unnecessary. Ownership promised a close-by, mixed-use development called Ballpark Village, if they received more tax breaks. The land has moved from barren to now being a largely inaccessible softball field. The only news is the empty quarterly promises by the owners that someday something will happen. Nothing does.

In contrast, Nationals Stadium in Washington has been part of the vital regeneration of the struggling residential and industrial area of Anacostia. I’m sure that there were funny money exchanges in the development of the stadium, but in the end it is value added to the community, something that cannot be said about the current Busch Stadium.

It is no secret that, like all Rust Belt cities, St. Louis is struggling to recover from the near obliteration of manufacturing in the U.S. Poverty gets worse as the direction of income redistribution is from poor to wealthy rather than the other way around.

Our problems are hardly addressed by $1,000 here and $1,000 there going to politicians who will ultimately use the money in a campaign to inflate their own accomplishments and distort the views of their opponents. There seems to be a certain symmetry between Blunt and Carnahan, both of whom profess a commitment to fiscal restraint, entertaining funders by seeing a baseball team that has deprived our region of millions of badly needed tax revenue.

Major League Baseball and politics are not strange bedfellows. For several nights at National Stadium, the ugly game of legalized bribery was a little more visible than usual. Thank you, Jake Wagman, for shedding needed light on the subject.