Friday, September 16, 2011

Governor Perry and Crony Capitalism

One of the accusations being leveled against Texas governor Rick Perry is that of "crony capitalism". This charge has been applied to Perry in virtue of his executive order mandating HPV immunizations. That order, if not stopped by the Texas legislature, would have provided a multi-million dollar benefit for Merck, a campaign contributor with whom Perry was connected through a major supporter and advisor, Mike Toomey.

The nature of this relationship is described below:

The ties between Perry and Merck run deeper still, according to the report. Mike Toomey, Perry’s former chief of staff, was working as an Austin-based lobbyist for Merck at the time Perry bypassed the Texas state legislature and issued his executive order. Today, Toomey is one of the founders of the pro-Perry PAC Make Us Great Again, which can accept unlimited donations and plans to raise upwards of $55 million dollars to help Perry win the GOP nomination.

(See Skate Perry has closer ties to Merck than he admitted)

One of the ways in which we might understand crony capitalism is in terms of straight-forward deals. "If you contribute $5000 to my campaign, I will sign this multi-million dollar benefit for your company." This is the interpretation that Perry used when he claimed - in answer to this charge at the Tea Party debate - to have been offended by the suggestion that he would sell his power for a mere $5,000.

But there is another way of interpreting crony capitalism.

Let me assume for the moment that I am an executive in a large company dealing with multi-billion dollar budgets. I discover that my company has or can obtain a relationship with a lobbyist who is a close friend and advisor with this idiot governor. This lobbyist is selling his influence over this idiot governor - that is the very nature of being a lobbyist. If I can get the idiot governor to sign an executive order requiring the use of my company's product - paid for by the state - I can add millions of dollars to the corporate bottom line. If I can spend $1 million in resources to get an order signed that will bring in $5 in profits - that is a great investment.

I could go to the idiot governor and offer a deal, "If you sign this order worth millions to my company, I will contribute $5000 to your campaign." However, that would show up in a bunch of mandated public campaign reports and certainly harm both my company and the idiot governor's political standing.

Instead, I am going to hire the idiot governor's close friend - or 'crony'.

With millions of dollars at stake, I can rationally offer the lobbyist a large amount of money. However, I can offer the lobbyist even more. The lobbyist's income depends on this idiot governor staying in office. Towards that end, I can offer the lobbyist a lot of non-monetary help.

I could say something like, "Lobbyist. Here is a list of people you can call to get campaign contributions for the idiot governor. I have already sent them letters telling them to expect a call from you. Many work for my company. They are executives and we pay them well - and they know that we can pay them even more if we had this additional income. Some are friends and neighbors of employees, and some are social contacts through church or the country club. They are, in other words, cronies. I think your talks will prove profitable for you, and beneficial to our joint project of keeping the idiot governor in office."

Unlike a direct campaign contribution, none of this will show up on any report. Yet, it is worth millions. Not only is it unregulated, it can't be regulated. What is the government going to do - read my private mail to friends and monitor my cocktail party conversations? Am I to be banned from saying publicly, "I am supporting the idiot governor's campaign and I think you should too?"

None of this requires that the idiot governor even know what is going on. All that is required is that he be an idiot and that he is capable of holding his seat as governor. He can honestly declare that he is offended at the suggestion that he will sell his vote for cash. He can honestly say that he has performed the action to realize some benefit. Under the influence of his cronies, he will even believe it. (See my posting on Bachmann, Perry, and What Counts as Evidence)

The idiot governor is not corrupt. What he gets is a lot of people telling him how great and wonderful he is and how important his work is. "Tell him he is God's gift to the state - that this is his divine calling. He'll eat that stuff up. Heck, he'll actually believe it, and he will carry that self-confident assurance throughout his public appearances, and that alone will increase his appeal to the voters."

The idiot governor has to have a few useful qualities of his own to pull this off. He has to look good on camera and have a nice smile and commanding stage presence. He has to actually have opinions that prevent him saying anything too stupid. Not just any idiot can rise to the position of idiot governor. It takes an idiot with special qualities.

Now, if the idiot governor had these qualities in sufficient quantity, it might be possible to get him into an even higher and more profitable position - the position of idiot President. If having influence over an idiot governor is profitable and useful, imagine having influence over an idiot President.

If a suggestion comes up - such as a suggestion to have the idiot governor host a huge religious gathering - I am well situated to make sure that this event has the resources it needs to be a huge success. I will work with the lobbyist, of course. And we would court resources with few direct ties to the governor or to my company - but that is not hard at all. We would get the right people invited to benefit the idiot governor's campaign, make sure it is well marketed, and make sure that there are people assigned to do all the leg work that will be needed. The purpose of the gathering is to promote the idiot governor's political standing before the religious right - a huge and financially well endowed voting block. But, here again, our campaign contributions will not appear on any official report.

I would like to add that this form of political effort simply is not available to the poor and the middle class. This takes wealth and power. Only the wealthy and powerful have the means to raise an idiot to the status of idiot governor and, if he has the right qualities, to the position of idiot President.

One of the ways that we can determine if this is the case is to see if there are other issues where the idiot governor adopts a different position - a position also profitable to people with huge amounts of money to spend to keep the idiot governor in office - but does so through inconsistent means. For example, the idiot governor who accepts the claim that HPV vaccines are necessary might accept the position that human induced climate change is a pack of lies - accepting science in the one case but rejecting it as a huge conspiracy to defraud the government of money in the other.

Something needs to explain these inconsistencies, and "crony capitalism" seems a useful working hypothesis.


mojo.rhythm said...

Exactly. Compared to Paul Ryan though, Rick Perry is a serious amateur:

Josh said...

I've thought before about what would happen if we did not allow campaign contributions at all, and instead each candidate had to use the same platform administered by the country, state, or locality. This would include public debates, questionnaires for candidates with public results to all the voters, etc.

The problem is you can't stop groups from doing their own advertising for a candidate; nor would I want to since I would see that as a violation of free speech.

So I wonder if anyone else has an idea about how to put candidates on a level playing field; and voters as well regardless of their wealth or lack thereof.

Josh Nankivel