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.