The Hess Report


Friday, June 17, 2005

The Only Real Solution To Campaign Finance Reform 

I had begun a snarky, glib post about what would need to be done to fix our current Federal political system, namely the way that incumbents almost never lose, and get all kinds of crazy bribe money, both legal and illegal.

I'm not going to post it, as I just realized the other day the only real measure that will fix the system permanently. I mean, I still think that Congressional term limits and the abolition of Gerrymandering is a great idea, and something that should be fought for. But no amount of rule changes or legal restrictions are going to be able to keep up with the ingenuity of people who are chasing large amounts of money. Think of it like this: the entire polity, economy and government of the United States is like an Internet-style routing machine for money. People will find a way to the money. Or better yet, think of it in meteorological terms: people and organizations are the negatively charged ground; money is the positively charged sky. In both cases, people and money are going to come together, along the most efficient path that the laws of physics (or routing protocols) will allow.

And that brought me to the only solution that can last: get rid of the money in government. Not the campaign finance money, the hard and soft contributions, or the 527's. The more I tried to figure out what could be done about cutting off the routes through which people can influence the government, the more I realized that any kind of regulatory restriction on Americans speaking out for their chosen candidates either as individuals or as groups, in the form of donations or actual speech, was simply wrong, and counter to the principles to which I think we should adhere.

The money I'm talking about getting rid of is the money that the government has at its disposal. Why do lobbying groups spend millions upon millions of dollars every year just to influence one or two little phrases in a piece of legislation? Because those two phrases could amount to an even greater financial return for the organizations and people that those lobbyists represent. For them, the most efficient route to a higher profit happens to runs directly through Congress.

The logic would follow that the more you cut the scope of government, i.e. restricting its purchasing power by way of lower taxes and lower tax revenues, the less incentive people and organizations will have to spend their cash hoping to get more of that money back in return.

Let's say, just for fun, that both Social Security and Medicare have been privatized and removed entirely from the federal government's budget and purvue. Also gone are the ludicrous pork projects that the legislators use in order to look like heroes to their constituents, regardless of their actual political and ideological persuasion. What's left? Not a lot.

Would it be possible that, with only 1/3 of their original money to throw around and a significantly smaller legislative and bureaucratic footprint within which to hide abusive bribe-based legislation and regulation, we would see individuals and organizations focus their money-making efforts elsewhere? Company A or Donor B suddenly finds that the government not only won't help them out anymore, but simply can't because it doesn't have the funds or the authority. Once the return on the investment in lobbying stops becoming cost-effective, organizations will find other, more productive ways to invest that money, and the gravy train from said donors will suddenly disappear.

Where does that leave the rest of us? Better off or worse? It's true that with the profit motive removed from the majority of political advocacy (and helped along by term limits) that you would probably see people become involved with politics at all levels more for ideological than financial reasons. Would that only accelerate the takeover of the two main parties by their fringe of crazy-eyed zealots? Or would they, too, turn to other avenues of getting their message out when they find that the power of government can no longer help them in the ways that they thought it could?

It seems to me that there is no functional way to limit the expression of the people's political choices. That may never have been the problem, and all of our attempts thus far at campaign finance reform are just shooting at the wrong target. The problem has been, and even more so in recent years, that the government has too much power and too much money. Cut that to the bone and all of the distasteful things people have been crying about: corrupt money, the de-facto bribery, the... well, basically it all boils down to corrupt money. It all goes away, or at least drops to a level that would be tolerable to most people.

As the easy government money floats off into memory, I'd even be willing to bet that you'd see a shift in the tone of rhetoric. I realize that both Republicans and Democrats to a certain degree believe the things they say on the floor of Congress and to the TV news cameras, but I know human nature. And knowing that, I have to conclude that as much as they believe in their ideals, they are also influenced by the animal part of their brain into doing and saying things just so they can hold on to what may be the cushiest, most perk-laden job that an American can have. Threaten someone's way of life, and they'll become just as shrill and nasty as any Senator, Congressman or Presidential candidate that we've seen in the last twenty years. When the stakes aren't so high, there won't be as much reason to shed the tears and make the outrageous accusations.

Way smaller government. Way lower taxes. My plan for campaign finance reform. I don't think John McCain or Russ Feingold would like it.

Welcome Instapundit readers (and thanks, Prof.). Blah blah blah look around, etc. This is my personal family blog, but you can see my other stuff at Steel City Cowboy

Thanks for reading!

Comments:
What ripple effect would your idea have for all the people who are being helped by government funded programs? i.e. elderly living in subsidized housing, medicare for their health needs which includes long term care in nursing homes, etc.
 
For all of the people who truly have no other options, and there aren't that many, you have to phase out the programs, and even probably grandfather some of the current participants. To me, welfare at the Federal level is simply immoral. The bureacracies involved are horrific stewards of the wealth they collect, and there are so many better alternatives.

Also, costs for healthcare and housing would most likely decline under a proposal like this, as the less the government is on the backs of business, the better the economy will be, the more money people will have (including philanthropists), and the cheaper things will become.

Indeed, some people are helped by these programs. But a huge number of people are not helped by them, and are in fact, held back by their unnecessary dependence on them, and the unintended consequences that Federal welfare programs produce.
 
What, if any, transitional options would you propose for the few that would be effected by your funding cuts that may indeed put the elderly out in the streets with no housing or medical care?
 
The most needy participants would have to be grandfathered - they would continue to receive welfare payments just like they do now. I do not believe that it is within the purview of our Federal government to catch those individuals who fall, for whatever reason.

Honestly, in my view, maintaining a Federal-level welfare system is significantly less important than reducing the size of the government. There is no reason that programs like this, if they are really needed, could not be funded and administered at the state level, or even more locally.

Also, you say it would put "the elderly out in the streets with no housing or medical care". To be accurate, it would put SOME of the elderly out, not "the elderly" as a whole group. Also, they would still receive medical care. It would be given as welfare by private hospitals, just like it is already to the other uninsured. Uninsured does not equal no health care.

Let's not mince words about it: the people you are talking about are on welfare, plain and simple. They are living (almost) solely off of my (and every other income-receiving American's) tax dollars, not from the money that they put into the system. I don't intend that to mean that they should simply be cut off and abandoned. The Federal government has allowed people to become addicted to its steady flow of cash, and has a moral responsibility to get them clean while it gets itself clean.

As for an exact solution to transitional stages for taking things like Medicaid and SS private, it's a good question, and one that I'll give some thought to.
 
The problem though is that a lot of the corruption centers around how defense money is spent. As long as contractors are competing for billion dollar projects to builds jets, tanks, subs, etc... there are going to be people greasing palms to make sure the contract goes to their company.

I'm pretty libertarian, but I don't think we can abolish DoD...
 
This is just more thinking along the present road. You're still forbidding things. That isn't going to work. Not only is forbidden fruit sweeter, but the very act of working around the prohibition is costly for the country out of proportion to the cost of the corruption.

Here's another notion. Don't just knee-jerk; think about it.

The problem is that the Congressman can be bribed. What we need is a way to make the Congresscritters immune to bribery.

First, term limits. Twelve years and out. Serve twelve years and you can't be elected or appointed to any office whatever.

Then -- all moneys collected in a Congressman's district become the property of the Congressman, in fee simple. All operations of Government are paid for by what amounts to passing the hat around the Representative Chamber.

You'd have to assess each District to pay for the Constitutional officers, the President and VP and the Senators, possibly the Supreme Court. Everybody else's salary depends on Congress, as it does now.

And no waffling, no trying to "keep it honest" by passing laws requiring Congresscritters to use the money for the public benefit. They'll just work around them, and the workarounds will cost more than the wastage. Once a quarter the Treasury writes a check and deposits it in the Representative's bank account.

How you gonna bribe that? The Representative will be sitting on a fund, at his personal disposal, that dwarfs any amount anybody could offer (except, maybe, Bill Gates.) And any payment made that benefits the lobbyist's client has to come right ought of the Rep's pocket, or else he has to go around begging the other Representatives for contributions. Why would anybody else pay? They've got their own brothers-in-law to support.

Yeah, a lot of them will spend most of it on themselves and their families and buddies. They still have to get re-elected, and at the end of twelve years they're gone anyway. And look at it this way: suppose one of them takes the entire fund, cashes it in, and moves to Brazil. That's still cheaper than what he does now, which is commit us to pay a billion a year to some Noble Cause from now 'til the heat death of the Universe.

Regards,
Ric
 
Here, let me make your argument as succinct as possible:

You won't get the money out of politicis until you get the politics out of money.

Lawrence Person
 
Term limits actually do more harm than good. They sound like a good idea at first, but what happens is that the legislature loses all insitutional memory and also as a source of power. The little fiefdoms of a Ted Kennedy or Strom Thurmond sound horrible until you understand that their very longevity in the legislature works power source to give them the ability to not always be at the beck and call of lobbyists. The real incumbents become the lobbyists and because the legislators will only be in for a few years they have no incentive to do what's right and no legislative power to stand up against the lobbies. I backed term limits until I saw what limits did to California's legislature. It made the legislators weaker and the lobbyists stronger. It's not the way to proceed. Your idea about controlling such and such amount of money is a really interesting one though.
 
I thought this sounded like a great idea. If the federal government had less money to wield for programs, states would have to pick up the "bill" (as stated in comments), which I think would lead to better transparency. With better transparency (local news coverage of local leaders) comes more fiscal responsibility.

As far as members of Congress being bribed, why would someone bribe a person that can't provide a needed solution?

And as far as defense spending goes, if Congress is still being lobbied to provide money for defense-spending, at least it provides jobs and a better military. Plus all the other data and science that comes out of defense-research.
 
Actually, I'm all for robust defense spending, as protecting the country from foreign threats is one of the enumerated jobs of our Federal government.

Ric Locke - that's an interesting way of going about it, but I think it's coming from the wrong end of the street. The whole point of what I'm saying is that if you remove the money and power from government, you will simply have fewer people clamoring for their favor. Supply and demand isn't something that can be worked around. Currently, a lot of people and organizations can get and X% return on their lobbying investment, because the federal gov't has the money and power to give them that return. You don't even have to completely eliminate the gov't's ability to provide a return, just reduce it below what you could get from investing that $ elsewhere.
 
Our government will always need the ability to raise money. So long as it has that ability, the temptation to lobbyists and corruption will exist. We can either attack the temptation or attack the ability.

I don't think the best way to fix the system is to destroy it...
 
William - as long as we make the return on lobbying investement less than what you could get on that money elsewhere, people will take their money elsewhere.
 
Another suggestion, new congresscritters get a starting salary of one million a year. With a raise of one million each year for a term limit of 6 years.

Let them have plenty of pork up front. Limit the money they can spread around, and make them work by deducting dollars from their salary each time they go against the wishes of their people back home.

The Internet will be perfected soon where each voter (and those without their own computers) can vote monthly or yearly on how their "reps" are doing.

If that fails, throw all their names in a hat and draw for a telivised flogging each month.

Might work, if not, it would still be damn entertaining.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA
 
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