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.
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.