From out of the green mist enveloping the campaign doldrums they come. Relentlessly. Doggedly. Cattedly. Trudging, blank-faced and soulless. Armies of cash-hungry zombies brandishing partisan pickaxes, shovels and crowbars, with only one goal rattling around their feverish brains. Campaign booty. Pieces of eight. Entire 8s. Eight-figured 8s.
We’re in that lazy seam that marks the home stretch to the National Conventions, with little else to occupy opposing squads than raising moolah to prepare for the epic upcoming battle. Negative ads don’t grow on trees, you know.
The peripatetic participants are as frenzied as reef sharks in shallow, tuna-rich waters trying to raise a little bit of money here, some more money there, how about all that money -- everywhere. At this point, the staffs are so laser-focused you’d think they were being pursued by the hounds of fund-raising hell. Maybe they are. Or the ghost of John McCain’s ‘08 late October.
In May, President Obama picked up a measly $60 million versus $76 million for the presumptive Republican nominee ,and those figures were considered by most experts to be a drop in the Suck-It bucket. Slack City. Chump change. Must have been distracted. Weren’t really trying. Had their minds on other things. It was Sweeps Week.
But with the election less than five months away, the time for random tips and digging under couch cushions is over. Right now, the collection plate is being passed with both congregations weighing and judging from behind praying hands. And the candidates have tuned their industrial-strength choir operations to sing en masse in the key of Thee. Except for Cory Booker.
The two campaigns expect to raise a billion dollars each by September, and that doesn’t count the capital being sucked up by the Super PAC vacuums either. They laughingly call this speed-dating money-grab a “listening tour,” but the only folks being heard are the ones speaking with big, fat wide-open wallets.
The country is being strip-mined for campaign gold. Keel hauled for buried treasure. Huge looting machines are dangling potential donors by the heels to shake large bills, blank checks and loose change out of pockets. Then they get a sucker and are encouraged to go away. But stick next to the phone. There might be another call. Might, as in, will. Repeatedly.
Can’t blame the politicians; it was the Supreme Court that fired the pistol starting this Amazing Race for Wampum when it decreed money to be free speech. The campaigns are simply searching for the most strident voices. Human shrieking megaphones. We’re in the audition stage of American Idol where loudest equals bestest. Only problem is, one air raid siren sounds an awful lot like another.
Don’t bother asking what these big-time donors get for their greenbacks; you don’t want to know. That’s the dark side of democracy: those that give, get. Currency gets you access. Access gets you influence. And influence is just a small step away from being appointed to head a panel to write your own arsenic loophole into tap water regulation.
Face it people: In America today, the major difference between a campaign contribution and a bribe is five syllables. The cynical among us might say we no longer bother engaging in elections, we conduct auctions. But like everything else in this country, at least they’re big. And loud. And expensive.
Comedian and writer Will Durst can be reached at willdurst.com.