Pa. needs to ban this kind of 'poker'


Are you a big fan of derivatives traders these days, after the economic meltdown of 2008 and beyond? Probably not. How are you feelings about charter schools in Philadelphia, given the flurry of reports suggesting rampant mismangement and related scandals? With that, how would you feel if I told you that a bunch of derivatives traders whose social policy goal is more charter schools had given more money to one candidate for governor of Pennsylvania -- a whopping $1.5 million -- than most candidates raised from all of their donors combined in the last quarter?

That is exactly what happened:

Three Bala Cynwyd investment moguls who say they share State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams' passion for charter schools and education reform have given his gubernatorial campaign as much as $1.5 million.

The eye-popping amount, given through political action committees that support charter schools and school choice, elevates Williams to a legitimate contender for the state's top office and could make school choice a major issue in the election.

The money came from Jeff Greenberg, Arthur Dantchik, and Jeff Yass, managing directors and three of six founders of the Susquehanna International Group, a Bala Cynwyd investment firm formed by college friends in 1987, according to its Web site.

Ironically, I watched the six gubernatorial candidates debate last week and was more impressed with Williams that his five relatively bland rivals; I thought he had a talent for avoiding the usual political BS and that he could be a voice for people who too often do not have one in Harrisburg. But this is no way for Williams or anyone else to become governor -- on the fiscal generosity of a handful of single-issue-minded multi-millionaires.

The philosophy of Susquehanna International Group, interestingly, is heavily rooted in the game of poker. Is this what they mean by "upping the ante"?

Once again, we have proof that the political process in Pennsylvania is both insane, and apparently incurable. That said, I'm a little torn on the solution. I actually do believe there's intellectual merit to the argument that unlimited contributions like this should be OK, as long as they are widely publicized to voters. But in the reality-based world, that's not effective -- how many voters are going to see and be aware of the article that I linked above (especially with newspaper readership plummeting)? Which is exactly what millionaires like these are counting on, isn't it?

The best way to choose candidates is for the public to pay for candidates in their interest, through public financing. If you think we can't afford that, think of the millions upon millions that taxpayers will save when politicians aren't indebted to their fat-cat donors.