Despite inflation being held in check, the price of a politician is going up. The upcoming elections will be the most costly in U.S. history. You can't even buy a sheriff today for what you bought a senator in the past.

Paul Z. DuBois, an expert on election economics, said, "Everything has gone up--television ads, consultants, collecting crowds and the price of chicken a la king. The candidate has to spend 25 percent of his time campaigning and 75 percent raising money for it."

DuBois continued, "It's not just dinners that the staff has to arrange, they have to come up with ingenious political donor attractions. Some include sharing a vacation with the candidate and his family in Montana. Others offer car-pooling with the candidate and his children, and still others will give you and your wife a fact-finding trip to India."

I said, "Is it true in the case of the next president that you still get to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom?"

"It's not unheard of," he said. "When it comes to who gives, we must distinguish between hard money and soft money donators. Hard money is no more than tip money. Soft money is the mother's milk of politics. No matter what they say, people running for office think more of you if you give them soft money than hard money."

"Lobbyists seem to be giving more every year. Why is that?"

"The companies expect a bigger bang for their buck. Take the telephone lobbyists, one of the biggest givers. They believe every dollar they spend on a politician is a dollar that eventually will help them with a new merger. Where lobbyists have power is that they can either work for the candidate or against him. If you don't play their game, they will try to shoot you down."

DuBois said, "Every vested group in this country is aware that they are not going anywhere unless they have a majority of politicians in their pocket. The candidates used to beg for the money--now the donors, knowing what's good for them, give it without hesitation."

"Does money buy political favors?"

"I would hope not. That would make a mockery of the Constitution and everything this country stands for."

"What about the reforms to control political fund-raising?"

"If Congress thought they needed them, they would certainly pass them. But we have become a country that governs by cash. That's why there is now a banner over the Capitol that reads, 'House for Sale.' "

(c) 1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate