Working the System

For all the concern about pinched budgets and threatened programs, there's still plenty of money (and money to be made) in government and politics. Even around the fringes.

We all know about highly paid political consultants, but what about paid petition-signature collectors? They don't make what the consultants do, but diligent ones can do a lot better than even the upgraded minimum wage, and whole companies have been formed to disperse their services.

To whom? You name it. Groups who want to put their latest pro- (or anti-) environment passion before the voters this fall. Or grass-roots, power-to-the-people movements like Ross Perot's Reform Party. When you need thousands of extra names on petitions in order to make the ballot, it's time to augment worn-down staff or volunteers with high-energy pros.

The same is true at the other, densely institutional, end of the politics-government spectrum. When state administrations have trouble finding the gold in diminished, or redrawn, federal programs, they call in professional budget scanners (typically accounting firms) to ferret out overlooked entitlement dollars. From the added millions in grants and aid they find for states ranging from Maine to Mississippi, a tidy 5 to 25 percent ends up in their own pockets as a finder's fee.

Just more evidence that the system - though perhaps "broken," as reformers contend - suits some people just fine.

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