Let's not kid ourselves. The prevailing modus operandi of Washington politicians—Democrats and Republicans alike—is "pay to play." Money is the "mother's milk" of politics. Nothing warms the hearts of members of Congress as much as campaign contributions. Special interests invest in political campaigns as a cost of doing business expecting that, if they ride the right horse across the finish line, they will get a return on that investment. And what a return! Billions of dollars in bailouts, subsidies, tax breaks, immunities from liability, preferential treatment by regulators—the list goes on and on.
The AIG scandal is Exhibit A for the benefits that accrue to those who pay to play. TIME magazine reports, "The company befriended politicians with campaign cash—$9.3 million divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans from 1990 to 2008...." In 2008, AIG doled out more than $630,000 in campaign contributions to Washington's political elites. Recipients of the corporation's largesse included Senator Chris Dodd ($103,100), then-Senator Barack Obama ($101,332), Senator John McCain ($59,499), then-Senator Hillary Clinton ($35,965), and of course many others. While, at first blush, those sums appear hefty, they are trivial when viewed in light of the $180 billion in taxpayer money that AIG received at the hands of those whose palms it greased.
If only your 401(k) produced the same return on investment!
What is particularly galling, however, is that more than $120,000 was donated to the Washington political class after AIG received its first $85 billion in bailout funds. In other words, at that point America's Number One Corporate Miscreant was spending your money, not its own, in order to prime the pump to get more of the same.