In 1995, actors Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes starred in a movie called “Money Train.” The story was about two New York City transit cops who were determined to rob the transit agency’s “money train” which regularly roared through the city’s subway system, picking up millions of dollars in fares at its many stops.
I think of this movie whenever I read about President George W. Bush’s activities in raising huge amounts of money for his re-election campaign. I have this image in my mind of the president, dressed smartly in a U.S. Navy flight suit, a gleam in his eye, operating the train’s controls.
At each stop, Mr. Bush watches approvingly as corporate fat cats and assorted other rich Republicans heave bags and suitcases full of money into open rail cars. The train will be stuffed with an estimated $200 million by the end of the run.
Thoughtful Americans might think that such a large amount of money, if destined merely for a political campaign, is excessive. The same amount of money would pay for 10 brand-new, first-rate high schools that would provide educations for 12,000 students annually. But instead, the money will be squandered on television ads, radio spots, bumper stickers and roadside signs – all to “sell” an image of someone the Republicans want to keep in office.
The bigwigs and rich folks who are tossing bags of money onto the president’s train are not doing so simply because they like his Texas swagger, his cowboy persona or the amusing way he fractures the English language whenever he speaks.
No, they are giving money because they expect something in return – usually tax benefits or prestige that they cannot earn in more conventional ways. To illustrate:
? Tax benefits. After the president signed his stock-dividend tax-rate cut in early June, major corporations immediately upped payouts – an action that favored large stockholders. Thus, Robert Glickman, a major shareholder in Corus Bankshares, saw a tax windfall of $4.5 million. Stanley Weill, who owns a large chunk of Citigroup, got an extra $16.1 million. Henry Paulson, who owns 4 million shares of Goldman Sachs, saw an extra $2.2 million land in his mailbox. The list goes on.
? Prestige. Many wealthy Republicans lavish money on the president because they want to share the limelight with him. These people become “Pioneers” or “Rangers” by bundling and contributing $100,000 or $200,000, respectively, for the Bush re-election campaign. In return, Mr. Bush rewards them with cabinet posts (Don Evans, Tom Ridge, Elaine Chao), federal judgeships (William Martini, others) and ambassadorships (21 total). All are also regularly invited to exclusive “inner circle” gatherings, such as the one Mr. Bush held at his Texas ranch on Aug. 9.
Some readers may argue that I am being unfair by stressing that the president’s supporters are primarily rich people. Well, that’s reality.
Few Americans can afford to make large contributions to candidates for high public office. In fact, in the 2000 election cycle, only about one-ninth of 1 percent of the voting age population made the maximum contribution to a candidate.
Those who can afford to make such contributions, either personally or by bundling contributions of others, are overwhelmingly wealthy, white, older and male. If you don’t fit those criteria, you don’t count, and Mr. Bush knows that.
Gary Jacobsen lives in Woodbridge.