When my colleague Tony Norman decried Luke Ravenstahl's fundraiser luncheon with Bill Clinton in his column Tuesday ("Bill Likes Luke; Big Bucks Flow"), my own reaction was more resignation than outrage. If the mayor's would-be opponents were discouraged, I reckoned so what? They could dig up their own celebrities to help them raise money.
Like it or not, that's the system, and if people are silly enough to pay $500 a plate to hear a short speech by the ex-president (and in some cases $10,000 to meet him), well, the way I see it is that counseling is available.
Nothing against Mayor Luke, but you couldn't fit enough delicacies on a plate to get me to pay $500 to eat it and I don't care who the guest might be. But I certainly wouldn't pay even $10 to meet Bill Clinton. I would be happy to make small talk if I met him for free but I haven't got the curiosity to pay for the pleasure - and, come to think of it, I haven't got a sufficiently large wallet either.
Tony's column asked the question: "In today's economy, who has $500 burning such pigeon-sized holes in their pocket that they're willing to throw it at a mayoral campaign that faces no tangible opposition beyond a few feisty blogs?"
My own answer to this question was that vain, celebrity-smitten people were the ones willing to pay big to be with the ultimate political head-turner.
But after reading Rich Lord's subsequent account of the luncheon, I realize now that I was naive. Celebrity-smitten fools may have been in the crowd but the motivation of others was potentially more sinister. It was in their best interests to be there.
As Rich wrote, "One reason no incumbent Pittsburgh mayor has lost since the Great Depression is that they can raise money from companies that deal with city government." He went on to list a number of them.
This is not illegal. This is the system. But when it's rubbed in your face like this, it doesn't smell so appetizing. No free lunch indeed.