Rich politicians pose own issues

Published 10:03 am Friday, September 16, 2011

There are advantages for the nation to have people of wealth participate in politics.

Sometimes that wealth is a result of creating success, and those who are successful may well have contributions to make to the larger society.

And wealth can protect office holders from some of the temptations that special interests might place before them to persuade. It would be difficult to use money to persuade Mitt Romney for example, with his personal fortune estimated to exceed $190 million.

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On a practical level, having some individual wealth can allow an elected officials to better support two residences, one in Washington and another in their home state.

But not all our legislators can or should come from wealthy circumstances. It is good that we have a variety of individuals with differing backgrounds to serve the nation. Such diversity better represents Americans from all economic walks of life.

Senator Patty Murray D. Washington) came from a poor family. The family was briefly on welfare during Murrays childhood. Ms. Murray reports that the family could not afford to visit the doctor during her early years.

Bill Clinton did not come from family wealth, nor did Barack Obama. And now Rick Perry, Texas governor, joins the Republican presidential race as another person not born into wealth.

But sometimes politicians who do not earn enough to become wealthy do become wealthy while in office through various personal connections.

Hillary Clinton made $100,000 in ten months trading cattle futures, with the help of James Blair, outside counselor to Tyson Foods, the largest Arkansas employer where her husband Bill was, at that time, governor.

In her final trade Blair helped her do a short sale that earned Ms. Clinton $40,000 in one day. There were no investigations and the Clintons were never charged with any wrongdoing.

President Obama bought a home on the same day the wife of a political “befriender” Tony Resko, bought an adjoining property. Obama later purchased a portion of the Resko property for $104,500. Obama called all of this a “boneheaded” mistake. There was no charge of illegality.

Rick Perry has become a millionaire while in public office as a result of several investment successes.

Perry made over $800,000 reselling a resort investment property he had acquired though a Republican friend in the Texas legislature.

Perry also made $38,000 in 1995 flipping a stock in a company, Kinetic Concepts, owned by one of his major campaign contributors.

In 1996 Perry spoke at the investors company, and later that same day Perry purchased an additional $35,000 in the company stock.

Also that same day an investment company purchased a $2.2 million investment in Kinetic Concepts, driving up the market price of the stock. Within a month Perry sold his Kinetic Concepts stock at a profit of over $38,000

Perry acknowledged he spoke with the company owner, Jim Leininger that day, but claims they did not talk about the company stock.

The practice of getting excellent financial advice from important contributors is neither illegal nor unethical. But it does raise questions about influence over public officials, and that is the charge currently in discussion about Governor Perry and his Merek connection.

Public financing looks wiser all the time.

Jim Crawford is retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.