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Running for Office is an Investment Worth Making

August 3, 2009

Many years ago when deciding whether to run for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives I received a lot of well-meaning advice from family and friends - all of which could be summed up in three words: don’t do it.

I was not originally from the state so my list of lifelong friends and chums to count on for help and support amounted to zero. While I wanted to do good for my community, my secondary reasoning for making the run proved correct, and it was a valuable political lesson that remains true today.

Running for political office is an investment - in oneself - and by making the run you will ultimately be paid back in ways that are often unimaginable. Not only are you seen as a leader and someone people want to know - it is handsomely rewarding - personally and financially - as it legitimately opens doors that are simply not available to ordinary citizens.

This is the payback for all the time and personal out-of-pocket expenses every candidate endures when they decide on a career in politics.

The simple fact is politically-minded people look for opportunities to help each other and political friends stick together for a lifetime. Key supporters are usually afraid to put themselves into the public domain (as a candidate must) - but they relish the idea of being around people with power - and they perceive politicians as having the one thing they do not possess -celebrity status and a public persona.

This could help in part to explain the unbalanced attacks by the mainstream media over the selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election. The Governor was attractive, smart, and interesting - and she was about to leapfrog the political pecking order in such a dynamic way - that it seemed to bring resentment from those about to be left behind.

Broadcast journalists in particular have a psychological need to achieve celebrity status and be seen regularly on television - so much so that they have pushed themselves for years to become television mainstays with viewers.

Meanwhile, print journalists - who toil in obscurity for little pay and little job security - were also put off by the Palin selection - as they reasoned she had not earned the national political celebrity status and vast opportunities she was about to receive as the vice presidential nominee.

The idea that she was not qualified was silly. These same journalists said nothing about past presidential qualifications - particularly those many candidates with much thinner resumes than Governor Palin. In a word - they were threatened.

To their credit, the media understands the benefits and riches a positive political public persona will bring. They understand that business and the communications industry take seriously the thoughts and comments of those respected in the political public eye - and for most journalists- achieving this status is a long and winding road. Palin had simply skyrocketed into the public consciousness but had not earned her way, they reasoned.

Yet she is not the first to be rewarded for newfound political fame and fortune by a political financial industry that will pay huge amounts of money to former office holders who have instant name identification and make a good appearance with the public. Being a successful politician isn't the only criteria either.

The list goes on and on of politicians who spent their entire working careers in the United States House of Representatives or United States Senate (where until recently the salaried pay did not reach six figures) yet were able to retire from office as multimillionaires with vast investments and financial holdings.

These former politicians legally and legitimately took advantage of the perks and rewards that can come by way of a political life - from publishing opportunities, paid speeches, cable television consulting contracts, corporate job offerings, honoraria, real estate opportunities, and Wall Street financial advice - which comes with a vast network of well-connected political friends and supporters.

The lesson is a simple one - politics may well be an honorable profession where simple kind acts can make a big difference in the lives of ordinary people. But the fact remains it is a smart financial investment too - and one where you only have to believe in the ability and the future of one important person.