Four days that really make our political system ugly

March 31, June 30, September 30, and December 31 are the most important dates of the year to most candidates running for office, other than Election Day and possibly the day of a debate. If the dates are important, and if the candidates aspire to be public servants, then one might deduce that what makes the dates important is that they represent what the candidates as elected officials could do for their constituents.

Au contraire, it’s essentially the opposite. These “end of the calendar quarter” dates are all about what citizens (including citizen-corporations, which exist, according to the Supreme Court) can do for the politicians, not the other way around.

There was a time when the only numbers that really counted in an election were votes on Election Day. Things have changed dramatically in recent years, and now there’s a new game in town with competitive scoring ….. “Dialing for dollars.” The question is how much money can a candidate raise in a given period of time. The assumption is that if a candidate is able to raise a lot of money, (a) he or she is well-liked by the public, at least that portion of the public that is “of means.,” and (b) he or she is a viable candidate, because money is the mother’s milk of campaigns. No serious candidate would enter a contest without seeking the greatest amount of money.

The most recent quarter ended Dec. 31, 2011. Some people were planning big New Year’s Eve bashes. Others were nervous about the date they had with “someone special;” they didn’t want to let him or her down. Some were at home alone, perhaps sad because they didn’t have a social event. Others were home, which was exactly where they wanted to be, preferring a quiet evening of reading and perhaps television.

None of this kept politicians from continuing their onslaught of appeals for more money. They had to reach their goal for the quarter. They could only do it with “your help.”

I received nine requests on Dec. 31, no less than three from the President of the United States or one of his surrogates. I don’t know how I resisted giving. I’m supposed to feel the “fierce urgency of now” because, as things stand now, he’s going to enter the 2012 presidential race with merely one billion dollars.

My favorite request was the one directly from him with a subject line of “Hey,”

Friend —

About the deadline tonight: It matters.

If you can, please give $150:

To 2012,


My political inbox for the last week of 2011 looked as follow.

Underneath the headings are content that range from desperate calls for action to heavy guilt trips to sweet requests from the candidates’ mothers. No matter how hard they try, there’s nothing subtle about what they’re doing. They’re shilling for money.

I recognize that candidates require financial resources in order to run campaigns. But this is serious business and many candidates have made a sport of it.

And what do they do with their winnings? Many of them take the cash and transfer them to the pockets of the makers of sleazy negative ads. The American public says that it abhors negative commercials, but people continue to donate money, which, in large part, is used for that purpose. What’s more, they often believe the messages in the negative ads, meaning that they are drawn to a candidate who has raised money to be just plain nasty.

The system is broken; it will not be fixed until we have public financing with clear limits on both how much candidates can spend and for what purposes. We’re a long way from that, particularly with today’s Supreme Court and Congress. So, like others who are interested in politics, I may well be donating to various campaigns. Let me suggest two criteria for donating:

1. The candidate really needs it; they are not swimming in money.

2. The money will not be used for negative ads or other forms of distortion.

My ideal contribution will go to a low-profile progressive who needs to inform the public of his or her candidacy. He or she will run a clean campaign, and hopefully the public will see the contrast between him or her and his or her likely opponent. For better or for worse, I probably won’t be giving much in the near future. When the end of each calendar quarter comes, I’ll be both frustrated and amused. I won’t be persuaded.