Jim Hightower’s glossary of political corruption, consisting of words and phrases, from A to Z, actually used by the buyers and sellers of political influence in these modern times.
ACCESS, n. The Yellow Brick Road. It leads straight into the back rooms of Washington. Access is what the buyers of political favors profess to be purchasing, as in: Our contribution to the Senator merely reflects our desire to have access to the legislative process. Buying access is distinguished from bribery chiefly by the fact that the latter has been declared illegal, while the former is still at large. Despite protests by political pettifoggers, experience teaches that there is no practical difference between buying an official’s action and buying exclusive access to the official. Slang: Greasing the skids. “There is no question–if you give a lot of money, you will get a lot of access,” a satisfied executive told the New York Times after his corporation had given $500,000 to the GOP. “All you have to do is send in the check.” Many citizens are unaware that access is for sale, so out of ignorance they don’t bid.
ASK, THE, n. The key moment. After all the wine has been drunk and the dancing done, finally comes The Ask, the naming of a specific price; e.g., The chairman has the material you wanted him to see on that tax problem, Bob, and he hopes you’ll consider donating 50 and raising another 50. Also called The Pucker.
BAIT, n. Officeholders and candidates. To hook a major donor, bait is offered in many forms: We can arrange a private meeting for you with the Speaker; or, The President will be golfing at Windswept on the 25th and there’s an opening in his foursome; or, The Senator hopes you will sit at his table at the fundraiser. All bait opportunities are based on market price and availability. Overnights in the Lincoln Bedroom and appearances in Buddhist temples have been discontinued for 2000.
BUNDLING, n. To get close, but not go all the way. Corporations cannot give money directly to a presidential or Congressional candidate, which frustrates many CEOs who miss the old days. Hence, the artful dodge of bundling. Since executives (plus their wives and children) can each write $1,000 checks to candidates, the CEO simply collects, say, a hundred of these checks from those in the executive suite of Great Big Global Corporation Inc., bundles them together with a tasteful gold ribbon and personally hands them to the candidate in the name of the company: George, here’s a hundred grand we’ve bundled for you at GBGC–don’t forget us now, you hear? Technically, the law is not violated, and the corporation and candidate both get what they want.
CLOSER, n. The one who does The Ask. Usually, the closer is a campaign official brought in to do the dirty work of asking a potential contributor for a certain amount of cash; some candidates, like Al Gore, are exceptions: “He’s an excellent closer,” a Gore confidant says. Colloquial: One who seals the deal.
DONOR, n. One who gives to get; a political investor; the most valued citizen in today’s political system.
FACE TIME, n. A rare and prized commodity, now mostly for sale. The chance to sit face-to-face–constituent to Congress member–for maybe a half-hour or more to talk about a particular issue of concern is about as unlikely for regular citizens (i.e., noncontributors) as coming face-to-face with a talking pig. It is, however, an opportunity that grows more likely in direct proportion to the amount of money brought to the trough; as a notoriously whorish Texas state senator used to say, “Write your problem on the back of a check for me, then we’ll talk.”
FLOPHOUSE, n. see Lincoln Bedroom.
FUNDRAISER, n. The organizer of the bribery.
HOUND-DOG, v. Slang: to sniff out and pursue new or reluctant contributors, like a hound dog after game; to have an instinct for the hunt, as in: He hound-dogged that rabbit right out of the bushes when no one else even knew it was there.
KISS, v. To score: We kissed Exxon today.
LEVERAGE YOUR VOICE, v. Euphemism for money talks, bullshit walks: Representative Ellen Tauscher, telling The Hill about the sudden flood of political money now surging out of Silicon Valley high-tech corporations, explained: “I think clearly it is important to be able to establish yourself as to how the political process works. I think that they understand that this is part of the process and that they want to leverage their voices.” Synonym: pay to play.
LINCOLN BEDROOM, n. See Flophouse.
MAINTENANCE, v. Taking care of big donors. Both national parties keep skilled mechanics available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, including road service. Preventive maintenance includes keeping donors well oiled with high-level phone calls, greasing any governmental problem they have and periodically bringing them to Washington to check their engine pressure and give them special briefings; e.g., former Senator Lloyd Bentsen used to hold a monthly breakfast open only to those who gave $10,000 or more, and former Senator Rudy Boschwitz issued special blue stamps to his contributors so his staff would expedite their mail. High maintenance: donors who demand lots of attention; slang: Whiners.
MENU, n. The price list for access. The parties have become so flagrant in their disdain for even the appearance of ethical propriety that they have published brochures that offer specific access for specific levels of giving–from $5,000 photo ops with the Vice President and $25,000 skeet shoots with GOP committee chairmen to $10,000 private work sessions with committee staff and $100,000 Florida retreats with senior White House staffers. “We had a brochure from the GOP, and we virtually copied the format,” said the DNC’s 1996 finance chairman to The New Yorker. “I wanted some sort of consistency about [the pricing of access]…. I didn’t want the people in LA to get better access than the oil jobbers in Texas.”
NO QUID PRO QUO, n. As low as it gets. The final defense politicians offer for accepting corruption funds from corporations is that there was no explicit promise to deliver a goody for a gift: “The lobbyist asked for no quid pro quo,” said the chairman, “and I promised none.” This lowers the ethical bar to ground zero. Anecdote: The Texas legislature consistently shortchanges poor people so badly that the Lone Star State regularly ranks number forty-nine in various measurements of basic human decency, usually positioning us barely ahead of Mississippi; beleaguered progressives in our state are, therefore, reduced to being proud we’re not dead last, cheering heartily, Thank God for Mississippi! This is now the sad standard of national political ethics: Thank God he never came right out and promised a quid pro quo!
REPUBLICAN/DEMOCRAT, n. The two-faced mask of evil intentions worn by most lobbyists, all corporations and too many politicians: I am neither Republican nor Democrat, but both. Like Beelzebub himself, this is a creature that can take many forms but serves only one interest: his own. Slang: Republicrat.
SEASON TICKET HOLDER, n. The Brahmins of the political caste. Both parties now have an ultimate pedestal for supergivers who put more than $250,000 a year into their respective cups, though it is the Republicans who designated theirs the Season Ticket Holders. Origin: It seems that the GOP’s weekend getaways for donors and politicians at Aspen, Palm Beach and elsewhere were becoming so overrun with the riffraff who contribute only $100,000 each that the true elites were finding these events “crowded” and difficult to get quality face time with the politicians; thus was born, in 1996, the Season Ticket Holder class, with members awarded carte blanche access to the party’s top officeholders and granted entree to the most intimate gatherings with GOP politicians. Those with their tickets punched are also said to hold Season Passes, as in: Make time this morning for me to see the gentleman from Philip Morris, for he’s got a season pass.
WHORE, n. A term of endearment among insiders; a politician who engages in promiscuous legislative intercourse with a donor for money. While politicians never want to be called a whore in public, they often refer to each other as such in private as praise for being a successful fundraiser, as in: Why, you old whore, I heard you scored a big one with Globex International!
ZIPS, THE, n. The most bountiful hunting grounds for bagging campaign contributions by presidential and high-profile Congressional candidates. In order, the ten most lucrative ZIP codes, based on total amount of money given, are: 10021 and 10022 (Manhattan), 90210 (Beverly Hills), 10017 (Manhattan), 20008 and 20007 (Washington), 10128 (Manhattan), 33480 (Palm Beach, FL), 10028 (Manhattan), 90067 (Century City, CA). The five Manhattan ZIP codes run contiguously up the posh East Side of the city, from Forty-first Street to Ninety-sixth, stretching from Fifth Avenue to the East River–these are the penthouses of the clans that run Wall Street. The two Washington ZIP codes are the Woodley/Cleveland Park and Georgetown neighborhoods, where the top lobbyists dwell; fundraising consultants refer to these prestigious addresses simply as The ZIPs, as in: My candidate is having good luck in The ZIPs.