The Ethical Spectacle, May 1995, http://www.spectacle.org

How to Get Rich in Government

A familiar story: we elect someone to office with a modest net worth. A few years later, while earning a relatively modest salary in public service, the office-holder is a millionaire. How does this happen?

For the following, I am using a Republican example because those are the facts I have in front of me. But note the similarity to the story of Bill and Hillary Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas. The propensity to get rich in the so-called public service is found in Democrats and Republicans alike.

My source for the following is Politics for Profit: The Rich Rise of Lamar Alexander, by Doug Ireland in The Nation for April 17, 1995.

Mr. Alexander is the ex-governor of Tennessee who is campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. When he first ran for governor in 1974, his net worth was $151,000.00. By 1991, when President Bush appointed him Secretary of Education, he was worth between 1.5 and 3 million (Cabinet officers only have to reveal ranges, not exact numbers.)

Mr. Alexander made most of his investments through a trustee. In many cases, the trustee was his wife, Honey. Follow the dance:

What is the moral of the story? Public life (especially in states like Arkansas and Tennessee) is like dancing a cotillion in which, at the end of the mad whirl, your pockets are stuffed full of money. While the rest of us (assuming we have money to invest at all) struggle to select stocks or mutual funds that will do well, and frequently suffer for our mistakes, public officials like Lamar Alexander and Bill Clinton are surrounded by appreciative people who will cut them in on a sure thing, helping to support them in a comfortable manner while they helm the ship of government. Doubtless without expecting anything in return.

This modest proposal is the only solution: let's require a vow of poverty from anyone who wants elective office. There is no other way out of this.