Sunday, November 20, 2011

Money Corrupts Politics - Big Deal?

I just read a very interesting commentary by David Gergen. He is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four presidents. He is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

I have always found Gergen to be an informed, balanced commentator who doesn't assault listeners with an extreme left or right perspective. He speaks with a quiet calm, not with a fevered pitch. His latest commentary is on money and whether it is corrupting our political system. It is an interesting read. He talks about a new book by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig.

The most striking items in the commentary relating to Lessig's book are:

  • The cost of getting elected to Congress has exploded: from 1974 to 2008, Lessig notes, the average cost of a re-election campaign ballooned from $56,000 to more than $1.3 million, a more than twentyfold increase that far outpaces inflation.
  • Fundraising is a constant concern: Candidates have to spend between 30% and 70% of their time raising money. (Lobbyists, however can ease this pressure through many kinds of what Lessig calls "legislative subsidies" -- advice, research, support, and most of all, campaign cash.)
  • The revolving door between Congress and lobbyists is spinning faster: In the 1970s, just 3% of retiring members of Congress went into lobbying. But by 2004, in the previous seven years more than half of all senators and 42 percent of House members had made the switch.
  • The incentives for lobbying are clear. A 2009 paper found, for example, that firms get between $6 and $20 back for every $1 they invest in lobbying for tax benefits.
I think it is a safe bet to say that money corrupts. The question is how do you keep money from corrupting politics? If you watched a recent 60 Minutes segment on Abramoff and how he used his money and influence to corrupt members of Congress and their staff, you would be offended beyond belief.  As 60 Minutes Lesley Stahl stated, it made her sick and very angry. Look at the money the Republican candidates and President Obama raise to finance their campaigns.

The power's that be must address the campaign finance system. Can we have a realistic expectation that Congress will act on the issue? It will be a cold day in hell when that happens. It is the fox guarding the hen house. Money talks. Money buys influence. Money buys power. Money corrupts.

End of story.


  1. Money and Ideologues working to engineer our society to suit their personal beliefs are bringing this Country to its knees. That includes the ideology of Collectivists and the far right. It's obscene. Big money from individuals with personal agendas and large corporations seeking favor must end. I wish I knew how to begin that movement. The Tea Party had good intentions of putting the emphasis on out of control government spending; but, their social agenda fails to draw moderates. This Occupy Wall Street movement is too far left has no coherent message. Corporations and our Capitalistic economy are not the enemy; the laws and regulations put in place by short-sighted politicians, again trying to engineer a social agenda, are the biggest problem.

    It is broken and we must find a way to fix it.

  2. The question is how do you stop money from corrupting politics. One simple answer is to go back to the 30's and do what they did then when faced with a similar problem.
    We get a modern day Ferdinand Pecora to prosecute the corruption in Washington and Wall Street. The guilty are punished appropriately (not just a slap on the hand) Similar Regulations to Glass Steagall are put in place with something to adress the derivatives problem (financial weapons of mass destruction-Warren Buffet) Furthermore, campaign reform is put in place so our elected officials are not in the position of being indebted to anyone.

  3. Regarding 11:25 PM's comment;
    With all the attention Occupy Wall Street is getting, this would be a good demand for them to rally around. Demand that the underlying disease be cured, not just some of the symptoms caused by the disease.