Follow the Money

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Fineman

The sad, sordid way we pay for campaigns.

I'm a little shaky on the social geography of WeHo (a.k.a. West Hollywood), so I called friends in the entertainment business to get a fix on the Voyeur club. You know the place: the bondage-themed nightspot where a few Young Eagle Republican donors kicked back (at GOP expense) after a boring policy dinner in Beverly Hills. I learned that the club's building once housed a lesbian dance place called Peanuts. At a theater nearby you can catch a play called Puppetry of the Penis. And yet despite (or rather, as a result of) its location on Santa Monica Boulevard, Voyeur is a hot club, drawing young celebs, real and faux, and hosting events sponsored by Us Weekly, Maxim, and Heidi Klum. Forbes magazine even suggested it was the kind of scene where young, restless billionaires might want to spend time.

Everyone inside the Beltway points to the Republican National Committee's night on the town--young dorks in way over their heads--as proof that the RNC is a mess and that chairman Michael Steele has to go. Maybe, but the story is also emblematic of something deeper and not nearly so amusing: the sad, sordid way we pay for our campaigns. The eager GOP operatives may have gotten a little careless in their choice of location, but they were just doing what fundraisers do: servicing the egos of the donors and bundlers who bankroll politics. "We are the Facebook generation, so things happen spontaneously," says a Young Eagle, who spoke on the condition that I not disclose his name (but don't worry, mom: he wasn't at the club). "This was a mistake, obviously, but we always look for cool, programmatic opportunities."

Talk about bondage. It feels like we are in thrall to cash and the pursuit of it as never before. I know senators in both parties who spend every spare minute in the soul-shrinking exercise of dialing for dollars. Donors are just as trapped. Once they're on a list, they're on every list. "It's ridiculous what my call sheet looks like," David O'Connor, a leading Hollywood agent and a top Democratic donor, told me. "I know I'm a part of it, but I think that the system is completely broken."

You don't have to be Michael Moore to know that the main thing wrong with "the system" is not what it does to politicians or donors, but what it does to government. …