By Frank Blechman
Several weeks ago, I conducted and this blog published a conversation about the impact of money in politics (Money and Politics: Making it Transparent, May 3, 2021, https://wp.me/p9wDCF-2zW). At the end, I proposed that the topic deserved more attention. Accordingly, this column is the result of a one-on-one conversation with Edward H. Rice of Northern Virginia. For years he has been a community and political activist. Recently, he helped form a political roundtable and PAC called WinVirginia, which has played a significant role in elections across the Commonwealth. He was also kind enough to buy me a bagel to chew on while we talked. I hope that bribe did not unduly color the tone of the conversation that follows.
Q: Do you consider political contributions investments? If so, what factors do you weight as you make decisions?
A: No. I dislike the term “investing” in politics, although it is widespread. I am an idealist. I want to support people whom I perceive to genuinely care about the common good; people who put their cards on the table; who don’t try to throw a bunch of stuff at me that they think I want to hear. I like being heard. I am willing to listen.
Q: What effect are you trying to produce? Why give money (versus research, logistics, reports, policy papers)?
A: It’s intangible. I want good people in office who will work for good, responsive, effective government. I believe that thoughtful electeds will produce better results for everybody than ideologues or show horses. My father always used to say, “Bet the jockey, not the horse.”
Q: More generally, how do you see the impact of money in politics (mother’s milk, a necessary evil, corrupting)?
A: Some of each. It is unavoidable that similar experiences affect different people differently. Some use resources well. Some forget what they came for. But I think that’s acceptable if they are thoughtful and ethical in office. I wouldn’t want my support in any form to produce a reliable, predictable result. I don’t want any direct payback. I wish politics were less expensive. I wish everybody could get their calls to officials returned promptly and respectfully.
Q: Do you support any particular reforms to the political funding system we now have in Virginia?
A: I’ll support any reform that I think will work. But I am not spending my time trying to invent a foolproof system. People can subvert (even pervert) any rule or regulation. Generally, I believe in accountability through elections. I am not counting on divine intervention, or public funding, or term limits to change human nature. I do count on voters to throw the bums out when they smell a rat.
I hope that money can encourage good candidates to speak out more clearly about why certain politics and approaches will help everybody. Money might buy a bigger megaphone, but by itself it can’t make the message better.
Q: Are there limits to what money can do in politics?
A: I hope so. I don’t like lobbyists who try to tie their support to specific entitlements or quid pro quos. I know that money cannot make a weak candidate into a strong one, or turn an unfocused campaign into a focused one. Actually, money can’t “make” anything happen. I hope that money can encourage good candidates to speak out more clearly about why certain politics and approaches will help everybody. Money might buy a bigger megaphone, but by itself it can’t make the message better.
Q: Anything else you want to add to this conversation?
A: I don’t know. When I see what you’ve written I may change my mind about everything.
We should continue this conversation and see where it goes.