Political Self-Interest

Politicians are usually quite motivated to protect and build their power and influence in their elected positions. In spite of stump speech platitudes, their primary interest is getting elected and staying elected.

The primary means of staying in office typically devolves to money. Politicians rarely have it, and they all need it. So they court people and organizations who do have it, but these people often want something in return. These special interests may be reasonable or they may be not be.

However in the aggregate these special interest demands are distracting to politicians and frequently conflict with good governance.

The need to make hard and potentially unpopular decisions that are sometimes necessary for effective governance yields to the need to keep big ticket donors satisfied or to not challenge the prevalent political environment – largely driven by the self interest of all participants. The result is a candidate who is a tiger on the campaign stump, and a toothless obedient pussycat in the actual political office.

Some candidates are financially solvent enough to self-fund their own elections. The question of political self-interest still doesn’t go away if this is the case. Wealthy candidates and politicians would seem to have better things to do with their time to generate more wealth than mess with politics, unless their political office could contribute to the long term profitability or stability of their endeavors. For example, a businessman may seek office to promote a more pro-business atmosphere in the local government. This self-interest need not necessarily be a bad thing for the electorate if the selfish goals of the candidate overlap the best interests of the voters as a whole. This alignment is the exception.

Understanding the political ‘self-interest status’ of a candidate will help voters make informed decisions on election day. One need not be cynical about the reality of politicians governing in their own financially-driven self-interest. Once this reality is acknowledged, one need only to find the candidate who has a track record of real service to their fellow man or at a minimum a candidate whose self-interest most closely aligns with that of the voter.

Political self-interest may sometimes defeat the goals of a candidate and all of their supporters. A classic case in point is the 2015 Clark County Councilor chairman’s race. The three sitting Council members, all Republican and considered by most to be conservative, entered the race for council chairman. Also entering the race were a Democrat and a declared Independent who used to be a Republican but had clashed with the Republican Party because of his damaging collaboration with local liberals and other special interest entities. In Washington’s insane primary system, the top two vote getters move to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. The three sitting Republican Council members split the conservative vote, ensuring that only the Democrat and the Independent went on to the general election. This is a case where the political self-interest of individuals served them poorly, ensuring a result that was diametrically opposed to their individual and collective goals. Had the three candidates conferred and decided on one to run for the Chair, the collective agenda of all three would have been served. There was a heavy effort to get these politicians to do this—but they were unable to become coordinated. When considered with game theory, this is not even as complex as the prisoner’s dilemma, since there is no potentially positive result to be had by not cooperating. Instead, political self-interest defeated all three of these candidates, not funding or ideology.

ClarkCounty.info will focus on citizen value in government and will strive to draw the veil of rhetoric back and identify the self-interest agenda of political candidates.