Money Man

Good morning, it’s Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.

By the time you read this newsletter, I hope to be on an airplane to California. Why am I going there? If I were a politician holding a fundraiser, the smart-alecky answer would be to paraphrase notorious mid-20th century bank robber Willie Sutton: because that’s where the money is.

I’m not a bank robber, however, or a politician. I’m a Washington Nationals fan whose youngest kid lives in Los Angeles. I’m going to Southern California because that’s where the baseball is — at least for one more night. The aforementioned child and I are going to Chavez Ravine, along with my godson and my daughter’s boyfriend. Go, Nats!

But enough about me.

There’s a lot of money in Southern California, but even so, it was eye-opening to see that freshman House member Katie Porter raised more than $1 million in the third quarter this year. It was, as Ally Mutnick of Politico noted, “a massive haul for a vulnerable freshman member in an off year and her second consecutive seven-figure quarter.”

Porter, a Democrat from Orange County, now has nearly $2 million in cash on hand. Even more impressive is how she raised the money. A protégé of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Porter does not accept corporate PAC money; her strength is small donors. She received contributions from some 16,000 individuals, with an average contribution of $35. Something is definitely happening in the progressive grassroots, and it’s bigger than Warren or Joe Biden — or even Donald Trump.

That said, I’ve always been amazed at the bonanza politicians reap in my native state. Five years ago today, Barack Obama took his 21st trip to Orange County and Los Angeles as president. In 18 of them, his itinerary included fundraising events. The one on this date in 2014 was held at the Brentwood home of actress Gwyneth Paltrow. For a cool $1,000, supporters could attend a pre-dinner reception. Eating dinner with the stars and having a picture taken with the president later in the evening was a pricier proposition: $32,400, to be precise.

If that was a bit too steep for your blood, a Democratic National Committee roundtable discussion the following morning at the home of restaurant chain owner Michael Chow only set Democratic donors back $15,000. Yes, it’s expensive, but the DNC had no trouble with that price point, either.

All this activity is an illustration of Sutton’s Law. The inspiration for that dictum was a comment supposedly made by career criminal Willie Sutton. He made the FBI’s Most Wanted list in 1950 and served two decades in prison for bank robbery and various escape attempts before being paroled in 1969. A story in a California newspaper in the early 1950s reported that when Sutton was asked why he robbed banks he replied pithily, “That’s where the money is.”

This line definitely sounds like Willie Sutton. He was an erudite fellow who robbed banks politely and with great élan. But Sutton insisted in his autobiography (he penned two books in prison) that the words weren’t his.

“The credit belongs to some enterprising reporter who apparently felt a need to fill out his copy,” he wrote. “I can’t even remember where I first read it. It just seemed to appear one day, and then it was everywhere.”

But if Sutton was immortalized for a quip he never made, it prompts one question: Why did he commit all those bank jobs?

“Why did I rob banks?” he asked rhetorically. “Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life. I enjoyed everything about it so much that one or two weeks later I’d be out looking for the next job. But to me the money was the chips, that’s all.”

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

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