In the next year, some people in this country will pay more than $1 million to have dinner with one of our stellar presidential candidates.

The Washington Post reports that the GOP is charging $1.34 million per couple to be treated as Republican insiders. The Democrats might ask as much as $1.6 million, all for a rubber chicken dinner and a little rubber-necking at the national convention.

Anyone with that much money to blow on sycophantic malarkey obviously didn’t earn it with their brains.

As The Post and Courier illustrated Sunday with its story, “Capitol Gains,” politics is little more than a big-money industry now, and a lot of people line their pockets off the generous donations of suckers.

Sorry if that seems harsh, but it’s true.

Sure, political campaigns need money to operate, and there are many fine people in public service. But yard signs, TV ads, direct mail and campaign staffs cost only so much.

The rest, well, it can burn a hole in their pockets.

Some politicians end up spending much of their donations on consultants, “gifts” for constituents and — worst of all — “fact-finding” missions that are nothing more than paid vacations.

As if there is any reason in the world for some two-bit state legislator to fly half way around the world to strengthen South Carolina’s diplomatic relations with Israel.

There isn’t, and only a fool would believe that story.

The Post and Courier and the Center for Public Integrity found all this through public records. No telling what doesn’t get “reported.”

Some state legislators use campaign cash to visit golf resorts in Florida on “legislative business,” while others go powwow on pressing issues like public land use in Alaska and Montana. Both of which just happen to be great vacation and hunting spots.

What, never heard of video conferencing? Oh right — it’s hard to shoot things over the Internet.

Then, of course, there was the guy who bought a BMW convertible for local parades. Do we really want anyone making decisions on the state budget who doesn’t know you can rent a convertible for less than $50 a day?

Or, more to the point, do we want anyone in elected office who believes we are stupid enough to buy that baloney?

There are an alarming number of lawmakers who use campaign money to fill up their tanks, which is illegal. They should know this, because it was one of those things that got former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard booted out of office.

But still they do it. And why not? Do you know who polices the ethical behavior of state lawmakers?

They do.

Truth is, state lawmakers only get paid about $10,000 a year, plus another $1,000 a month for district expenses.

No one’s getting rich off that. In fact, many actually end up suffering financially. They have to be away from their businesses three days a week half the year just for session.

Then there are committee meetings, district meetings and all sorts of constituent work that eats up even more time. In some ways it is a thankless job.

But some make up for it, and profit, off the naivety of strangers. They are running the same racket as televangelists, except some of them have marginally better hair.

This is not news to anyone in the political business, but “Capitol Gains” exposes a terrible hypocrisy. Why can one lawmaker spend thousands on “gifts” for constituents, but former state Sen. Robert Ford is run out of office and fined $70,000 for doing exactly the same thing?

Well, because the game is rigged. Lawmakers turn a blind eye to all this chicanery until it’s politically advantageous to jump up and say they are shocked — shocked — to find out their colleague was abusing campaign money.

There is some truth to the claims of lawmakers that spending money on each other’s businesses is just natural. If you had a friend with a dry-cleaning business, you’d probably take your clothes there. The same goes for direct mail. Some of this is not particularly nefarious, just the good ol’ boy system. If such expenditures check out with state ethics laws, so be it.

But when lawmakers are blowing money on cars, trips and gas the system is broken. They should not be the ones policing themselves. And they should not appoint the group that does.

Maybe all that will change soon. Rumor has it state and federal investigators are once again looking at South Carolina state politics. Lost Trust II: This time it’s personal.

Of course, none of this abuse would be possible without the contributions from us.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t send $50 or $100 to a candidate you really believe in, but take a minute to check out their campaign disclosure forms. See if they’ve been trying to strengthen ties between South Carolina and the Bahamas lately. If so, they can probably get by without your hard-earned money.

It’s old advice, but it’s still valid: caveat emptor.

Reach Brian Hicks at