Steve Chapman

Politicians take people's money with a promise to fulfill desires that supposedly can't be attained any other way. Prostitutes do the same, though by reputation, they are more reliable in delivering. It's not surprising for people in the same line of work to gravitate toward one another, as Eliot Spitzer and a woman named Kristen reportedly did in a Washington hotel room.

I understand why Spitzer's alleged hiring of a call girl was stupid, selfish, reckless, immoral and a betrayal of his family. What I don't understand is why it was illegal.

It's not as though sex is otherwise divorced from money. If it were, hot young women would be found on the arms of poor older men as often as they are seen with rich ones. Had the New York governor wanted to buy a $4,300 bauble to seduce someone of Kristen's age and pulchritude, only his wife and his financial adviser would have objected.

It was Spitzer's effort to hide this pastime that attracted law enforcement attention. Prosecutors investigated him not because he had lipstick on his collar, but because he took steps to conceal his patronage of Emperor's Club VIP. By transferring cash to accounts controlled by fake companies, he roused suspicions of political corruption. By now, he probably wishes he had only taken a gratuity to grease a contract.

It's hard to feel excessive sympathy when a colossal hypocrite is exposed. Recently, Spitzer signed a measure increasing penalties for men caught paying for sex, who can now go to jail for as long as a year. But schadenfreude is a weak justification for laws that intrude into the bedroom.

As with laws against illicit drugs and unsanctioned gambling, this policy tries to suppress powerful human appetites and consistently fails. What one New Orleans mayor said applies to a segment of every human society: "You can make prostitution illegal in Louisiana, but you can't make it unpopular."

Alternative newspapers, telephone directories and online sites are replete with ads for massage parlors, escort services and women "eager to meet you!" -- proof that when individuals yearn to find each other for mutually gratifying transactions, they are bound to find a way.

Even the prospect of arrest and public humiliation doesn't deter a lot of people on either side of the business. What should be obvious by now is that they are willing to spend far more effort achieving these encounters than the rest of us are to spend preventing them.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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