In the late '40s, my father's dress manufacturing company was located in the garment district on Broadway in Manhattan. I loved visiting him there. He employed some very nice and interesting people. Bookkeepers, cutters, machine operators, shipping clerks, and a bunch of others. Almost always there were visiting dress buyers, designers, and other people involved in some aspect of the business.
Now, I wish to come clean with the real reason I regularly visited my father at his office, and with a modicum of trepidation I will present the truth.
My father also employed one or two models who would wear the dresses he was selling to show to the buyers; they could be seen racing around behind his showroom, in their undies, and for an over-sexed 17-year-old like me, it was a real treat.
My friend Bernie worked in the garment district at that time and I would meet him regularly for lunch. Afterwards we would wander over to 37th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue to visit our friend Sam the Tie Man at his "establishment" located on the south side of the street on the sidewalk.
Sam appeared at his "office" about 11am with his assistant, a very tall black man, and a few gigantic suitcases filled with ties. Sam never said a word as he removed a group of ties with the same pattern but different colors from tissue paper, and spread them out for all to see. Someone might say "Sam, the red one," and Sam would hand the red one to the person, wrap the remaining ties and move on to the next group. Sam's assistant would keep track of the ties that were selected and if one was purchased, accept payment of $1.50 for the tie.
This represented the quintessential form of New York street commerce.
One day while watching Sam, and in the market for a new tie or two myself, I noticed a uniformed cop walking towards us; I almost died when Sam said, "Well Norman, here comes the landlord to collect the rent for the space."
He went on to tell me that the payment was for the precinct Captain and all of his senior staff. I asked Sam why he did not just open a store and rent the space for it on 37th. His reply was that not one of his "clientele" would even think of going inside a store to buy a tie.
It is very simple for me to understand the dynamic that was going on between Sam and the cops. Was Sam breaking the law by selling ties on the street? Of course he was. Were the cops breaking the law by accepting payoffs from Sam so that he could keep selling ties? Of course they were. Was Sam breaking the law by selling ties where he was and by "paying off" the cops? Of course he was.
Welcome to America.
I am certainly a Liberal, and I do vote for Democrats. Now having gotten that behind me, what I am going to say is not restricted to a particular group or political party, but rather the deep-seated criminality that is rooted in our system, and perhaps in most individuals. It is likely not the system that is flawed but rather the people like "you and me," Sam and the cops, and others like them. In my 50-plus years in "the media business" I have observed derivatives of the Sam-and-the-cop scenario. Larceny seems to be ingrained into the human condition.
I had to laugh when in 1977, U.S. companies that were conducting business with foreign government entities and government officials had to comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), specifying that they may not bribe any foreign official to obtain or retain business.
As a part of the act I needed to swear that I knew of no instances where foreign television executives were taking bribes. I refused to comply with the part that asked me if I had any reason to believe that any of these officials were taking bribes or kickbacks.
Which brings me to my next big-time annoyance: Campaign Finance! I will summarize a few of the operative rules.
According to the guidelines, individual donors are now able to give up to $2,400 per election, or $4,800 for both a primary and a general.
Donors may contribute over $30,400 to national parties. A single donor is now limited to $115,500, including $45,600 to candidates, per cycle.
Democratic House candidates raised nearly $528 million, while Republicans raised over $436 million. On the Senate side, both parties' candidates combined to raise more than $406 million during the 2008 cycle.
Winning a House campaign cost an average of $1.43 million in the past election cycle for the average winning campaign, which is more than $100,000 above the 2006 average of $1.32 million.
In total, federal candidates raised and spent nearly $3 billion, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Add in the $580 million raised by the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, plus the $626 million pulled in by the top three Republican campaign committees, and the total amount spent on federal elections jumps to about 4.1 billion dollars.
It was very simple to assess what Sam received in value from his "landlord" the cops, but it is much more complicated to asses what the donors to these campaigns received for their contributions.
Here are eight senators who will vote on the proposed Health Care Reform bill who have indicated they will stand in the way of the public option -- along with the total amount of money they've received from healthcare, drug companies and a few other interests.
Sen. Max Baucus: $3,973,480
Sen. Evan Bayh: $1,565,088
Sen. Kent Conrad: $2,154,200
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: $1,749,887
Sen. John Kerry: $8,994,077
Sen. Mary Landrieu: $1,653,943
Sen. Joe Lieberman: $3,308,621
Sen. Ben Nelson: $2,214,715
When I hear it said that the campaign contributions are given without any expectation of anything in return I can only smile or cry.
Almost 40 years ago Jack Valenti at the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) told me that it was possible to "secure" votes from members of the House involving relevant studio matters for a campaign contribution of a mere $5,000. Wanna talk about inflation?
Here is my suggestion that will not solve the problem of "buying legislators" but will make the public cringe: Compel each congressperson to list his or her 10 major campaign contributors before every interview or public appearance.
Are there any among us who believes that these contributions don't matter to the voting by these Senators?
America needs to know!
How simple it would be.