The Senate's charity case

Posted: Mar 28, 2001 12:00 AM
Now we know which political party is truly the Party of the Little People. Noble Senate Democrats have come to the aid of a downtrodden woman. They are furiously passing the plate for this destitute soul, pulling out all the stops to help her get back on her feet. Who is this charity case? Not a welfare mom. Not a Cuban refugee. Not a homeless teen. It's poor little Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the former dot-com executive who spent $10 million she doesn't have to win her seat. Cantwell's personal fortune, estimated at $40 million, went poof when her tech-heavy portfolio plunged last fall. Her campaign debt reported at the end of December was $4.3 million. Young staffers went uncompensated for months. Dozens of small businesses still await payments. Two weeks ago, Cantwell failed to pay a hefty bank loan for which she had used her volatile stock in Seattle-based RealNetworks as collateral. Cantwell has another bank note due in full in June. Bills, bills, bills. What's a politician on the public dole to do? Cantwell's deep-pocketed colleagues in the Senate feel her pain. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, this week that "this is a very hard time" for Cantwell. Well, break out the ultra-strength Kleenex and super-sized checkbooks. "We're trying to raise money to help her, trying to give her good advice -- good financial advice," Feinstein said. Cantwell will certainly be learning from a pro. Feinstein, the eighth richest member of Congress, is worth an estimated $50 million. How did she make the big bucks? She married multimillionaire businessman Richard Blum, who has helped Feinstein secure shady loans and refinanced one of their many lavish homes to fund her Senate campaigns. Also on the Cantwell salvation army band: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York). She plans to hold a fund-raiser for her impoverished colleague next month at her $2.85 million mansion in Washington, D.C. Like Feinstein, money honey Hillary is a financial whiz who can give Cantwell sage advice on such varied topics as securing lucrative book deals, speculating in cattle futures, saving money on home furnishings, stiffing struggling waitresses, and purchasing not one, but two, seven-figure homes (with favorable mortgage terms, of course) -- all while carrying more than $5 million in legal debts she owes with that guy who's loafing around her house in Chappaqua. The filthy rich Democratic men of the Senate are offering a gallant hand and open wallet, as well. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has reportedly offered to host a fund-raiser for Cantwell and hook her up to his Massachusetts campaign donor base. Kennedy, of course, is the senior heir of his daddy's booze biz fortune -- totaling some $850 million, according to Forbes magazine. Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) -- who earned his wealth as a glorified ambulance chaser -- chaired a $200,000 fund-raiser for Cantwell at his D.C. mansion last week. By day, these loaded Senate Democrats attack President Bush and the Republicans for catering to the rich and powerful. They oppose income tax cuts, capital gains tax cuts and death tax cuts. They oppose school vouchers for poor children. They champion campaign finance reforms to punish big political spenders like Cantwell, then fill their nights drumming up dollars for themselves and cash-strapped colleagues ... like Cantwell. Such are the Democrat Party's grand acts of compassionate liberalism. Where would we little people be without them?