“Why is there so much money in politics?” Brooks asked. “Well, every consultant has an incentive to tell every client to raise more money. The donors give money because it makes them feel as if they are doing good and because they get to hang out at exclusive parties.”

So that’s it! Lobbyists in Washington pass out $5,000 checks at Capitol Hill receptions just so they can brag about how they get to hang out with congressmen. Oil barons like the billionaire Koch Brothers bankroll the Tea Party because they want to feel as if they’re doing good.


Just for fun, let’s consider another possibility. When people spend money, particularly when they spend large amounts of money, they generally want something in return. You don’t plunk down $300,000 for a new house or $25,000 for a car because you want to do something nice for the homebuilders or the autoworkers; you do it because you need a house and transportation.

Business people tend to be particularly careful about how they spend corporate money, and they should be. They have a duty to shareholders to maximize profits while positioning their firms for long-term growth. When they make campaign contributions, it’s because their firms want something done, or undone, by the government and because they understand that donations open the doors of people in power.

That’s why this year’s torrent of political giving, especially secret giving, is so important. Whoever wins these elections will take office with pockets full of IOUs. And rest assured, their creditors will come calling.

Dale Eisman is a senior researcher and writer at Common Cause.