Electing a President Means Rewarding Friends, Family, & Fundraisers

May 2nd, 2013

Years ago, I wrote a book proposal for a book called Trusted Advisors.  My point in writing this book was hopefully to make the electorate more thoughtful when casting votes for president. After working on a presidential campaign and knowing people related to former presidents, I know firsthand that when we vote for president we aren’t just electing an individual.  We’re also empowering and in a sense electing all the candidates’ friends, family, and fundraisers.

Today, President Obama nominated Penny Pritzker, one of his chief political supporters and a major fundraiser, to be the next Commerce Secretary. Her nomination illustrates my point perfectly.

When I wrote the book proposal, my agent loved it but came back with comments from editors that they thought it would make a better article than book, so here is a very condensed version of that article.

I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat.  If you are one of those rare humans elected president, you will reward those closest to you with high powered jobs whether they are really qualified for those jobs or not.  This practice is not new.

When Lyndon Johnson became president, he was joined in Washington by a host of friends from Texas.  I live in Austin, close to his ranch, and I’ve met many of these people.  Jimmy Carter brought what became known as the “Georgia Mafia” with him when he became president, and a list of key Reagan advisors includes many of the same people who worked for him when he was Governor of California.  Bill Clinton rewarded many of his buddies from his Rhodes Scholar days and a few Arkansas friends and George W. Bush took a slew of Texans with him to D.C.

Obama brings with him a large contingency of heavyweights in Chicago politics.  I don’t have to elaborate on the history and nature of Chicago politics but suffice it to say, bringing individuals from that environment to Washington should give any voter pause. This is, of course, putting it nicely.

I don’t entirely condemn a newly elected president rewarding those closest to him (or her) with political positions if they so choose.  I do believe, however, when we cast a ballot for anyone running for president, it would be most responsible if we carefully looked into the backgrounds of all the former aides, college roommates, golf buddies, and big time fundraisers of the candidate to get a better picture of what we might be getting when we elect this person.

In Ms. Pritzker’s case, I understand her nomination is rife with controversy.  Her family founded Hyatt Hotels, and she is estimated to be worth $1.85 billion dollars. Labor unions stand to be the biggest obstacle for her in a successful nomination since they accuse her of being anti-worker because of past practices of the family business.  The fact that she raised President Obama over $500,000 in the last election cycle and personally donated $250,000 to his inaugural committee likely assures full backing from the president throughout her nomination no matter what obstacles she may encounter along the way.

The old saying is “[t]o the victor goes the spoils.” This is certainly true in American politics.

What is also true is that we can and should do our best to be truly informed voters so that when we cast our ballots, we have a very clear picture of what we’re really electing.