In the 1920s, the plain-speaking showman and radio personality Will Rogers
observed that "Our country has the best Congress money can buy." What more need
we say? Since coming to Washington, D.C., more than six years ago, I have repeated Will
Rogers observation more times than I can count.
Political fundraising and spending is out of control. The 1996 elections
were the all-time record-breaker for political spending, topping out at nearly $2.7
billion. The Clinton and Dole (remember Dole? hes the guy peddling credit cards and
Viagra now) presidential campaigns raised and spent a whopping $232 million combined. The
average cost of winning a seat in the House of Representatives in 1996 was $675,000. To
buy a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1996 took an average of $3,765,000. Political Action
Committees alone poured more than $200 million into the 1998 federal elections, giving 79
percent of this bonanza to those already in office.
Raising this kind of cash is now a year-round job. The Republican National
Committee (RNC) recently booked the new MCI Arena here in Washington and threw a
fundraising bash. More than 1200 bigwigs showed up, and the RNC raked in more than 14
million bucks in one night. As for the Democrats, they didnt do so well that same
week. Two days before the RNC event, they had a house party in suburban Maryland and
charged between $10,000 and $50,000 to have supper with President Clinton. I would have
liked to share a meal with Bill, but I decided to feed and house my family for the next
year instead. Maybe some other people decided to stay home too: The party, hosted by a
prominent lobbyist, yielded 50 guests and a scant $600,000 for the Democratic National
Committee. But dont worry about the Democrats. In March, their Congressional
campaign fundraising department held a dinner and drummed up $3 million. Theyll
Business is Booming
When it comes to this fundraising "business," business is
booming. The Washington, D.C. political insider magazine Campaigns and Elections lists no
fewer than 173 different companies that you can hire to help shake the tree for political
contributions. Some specialize in asking Republicans, some in asking Democrats, some zero
in on labor money, and some only bother asking for big contributions from really rich
people. These outfits do all the work for you, and just take a hefty slice as their
fundraising "fee." But if you are reluctant to give a big cut to these guys, you
can do what the Democrats have just done: Find someone to do it for free.
Yes, the Democratic National Committee has done it. Theyve found a
woman who has agreed to raise $170 million by the November 2000 elections
thats about $283,000 per day, working seven days a week. Shes already rich, so
shes agreed to work without a salary. Along with her incredibly rich husband,
shes a trusted confidante of President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, their
wives and families. Bill Clinton is the godfather of her baby daughter, and she vacations
and plays golf with the President on a regular basis.
So who is this woman? Her name is Beth Dozoretz, and shes the new
finance chair of the Democratic National Committee.
A 'Rewarding' Job
Beth who? Thats what I thought to myself when I first read about
this political wonder woman in the society pages of the Washington Post. Beth is a former
New York garment district tycoon who just happened to marry Ron
Dozoretz, a billionaire
psychiatrist and owner of FHC Health Systems. FHC and its subsidiaries deliver managed
mental healthcare to more than 24 million persons in every U.S. state. Ron supports both
Republicans and Democrats because it helps him get lucrative contracts for his business.
He supported both Ronald Reagan and George Bush, and counts Christian Coalition leader Pat
Robertson among his personal friends. Last year he went hunting with Texas Republican Gov.
George Bush, likely foe of Democrat Al Gore in next years presidential contest. Ron
Dozoretz says that this time hes backing Gore.
But what about Beth? When she first married Ron she claimed that politics
was "boring." But when Beth met Hillary Clinton at the 1992 Democratic
Convention in New York, she gushed "that was kind of it." She is now completely
supportive of Democratic Party programs and policies, whatever they might be. And Beth
says that her daily job of personally phoning very rich people and asking them for massive
donations is rewarding. At the end of her long day at DNC headquarters on Capitol Hill,
Beth makes the trip uptown to her $4.25 million estate in Northwest D.C. In case she needs
anything, her staff of personal assistants live in the house they rent next door.
'I'm Backing the Labor Party'
Im not making any of this up. I wish I were. And all of this is only
the tip of a very ugly iceberg. And be honest none of this is coming as any big
shock. Republicans have operated on the handouts of Big Business and wealthy elites for
most of this century. Now the Democrats are following in their footsteps. As this process
of raising and spending literally billions of dollars in political money continues to
escalate, its no surprise that working people and our unions are getting left in the
dust. Any fantasy that labor might have about being able to outspend our enemies is just
that a fantasy. And with the dynamic, billionaire, managed-care Dozoretz duo
raising this kind of cash for the Democrats in 2000, how eager do you think President Al
Gore will be to push for any kind of real healthcare reform? Can you say "no
Lack of money is not the problem. And dialing for the dollars of the
super-rich is not the answer. Building a real, membership-based political party that works
to advance principled solutions to the problems of the people is whats needed.
If Beth Dozoretz calls your house to ask for a big donation, dont
tell her she has the wrong number. Tell her that youre putting your money and your
muscle into the Labor Party instead.
Chris Townsend is Political Action Director of the United Electrical,
Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE).