For the most part, America's early political leaders were men of means for whom government was a hobby. Judging by the dollar amounts alone in this week's revelation of outside income of California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), the nation has come full circle.
Brown earned $250,000 last year from his law practice, speaking fees and gifts from other Californians of means. For his contributions to state government, he earned $37,105 plus expenses. If that is not a hobby, it is certainly, by comparison, a gift of very valuable time.
But the Speaker's income cannot be judged by the dollar amounts alone. For one thing, even Brown might have trouble telling how much of the $150,000 that he earned as a lawyer came from clients who were influenced by his influence in Sacramento. He has had such clients in the past; a current client owns part of the property that is being contemplated for a state prison near downtown Los Angeles.
Speakers less polished than Brown pad their incomes singing for their supper, but it takes a special kind of San Francisco lawyer to run the total to $90,250 a year for delivering one-liners at banquets. And the gifts. Their total value was mere hundreds of dollars below what he earned as the Speaker.
Brown is very good at brokering votes for worthy causes, and that is a talent much needed in these days of tight budgets. And we have always felt that politicians have the same right that any citizen has to lecture for a fee.
But the line on outside income must be drawn somewhere. Brown's line is so far beyond decent reason that it can but add several layers to the deep cynicism that already separates too many California citizens from their political process.