Is money’s deep role in politics the root of our woes?

Excerpts from: David Gergen via CNN

This past Sunday’s “60 Minutes” and the latest issue of Newsweek bring back to the fore the complicated issue of money and politics. Both highlight a new book by Peter Schweizer, “Throw Them All Out,” which rails against what Schweizer calls “honest graft.”

Schweizer charges that leaders from both houses of Congress have been drawing on insider knowledge to make money in the stock market — a practice that is banned in American industry and restricted in other sectors of government.  And although he is a conservative at the Hoover Institution, Schweizer is an equal opportunity scourge, attacking both Democratic and Republican leaders.

This controversy underscores a deepening sense that money plays far too large a role in politics. If anything unites the tea party and the Occupy Wall Street protesters, surely it is the sense that the system is rigged in favor of big shots in Washington and against little guys back home. Money is at the heart of it.

A new book that should receive far more attention makes an even more sweeping and thoroughly researched case against money in politics — “Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It,”  by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig.

His argument is wide-ranging and impossible to do justice to in a brief column. But a few of the most striking facts he marshals are worth recognizing. Among them:

— 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.


About James Crist

How do we stop America's decline? The country is in trouble and we can all feel it. Where did we go wrong? How do we fix it? We now have an auction-based government, for sale to the highest bidder. Politicians have become nothing more than corporate whores and pawns for the rich. If we want our representatives to represent us, let them get their campaign money from us, their constituents. We have to amend the constitution to get the big money out of politics.
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