Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Wrong Solution to the Wrong Problem
Every couple of years, somebody comes up with what they think is a new idea: "Let's solve the problems of big money in politics by making donations anonymous." That way, the reasoning goes, politicians wouldn't know who they owed favors to, and there would be no corruption. A watered down version of this idea is to prevent bundling, where one fundraiser delivers a "bundle" of checks, and then the politicians knows where they all came from. By banning bundling, the same number of checks would come in, but the politician wouldn't know who to thank.

The idea never goes anywhere, because after about three seconds of thought, most people realize that it would accomplish precisely nothing. Even if politicians didn't know who was funding them, some politicians would still take positions favored by the trial lawyers, the oil industry, fat cat Hollywood liberals, Walmart, or any other big money special interest. Those politicians would raise gobs of money from these deep pockets. Meanwhile, other candidates (if they even bothered to run against the big money opposition) would take positions championed by school teachers, plumbers, waitresses, and engineers. Those politicians would raise a lot less money even though more people might actually be contributing to them. The reason? Oil executives and big wig lawyers can write a lot bigger checks than waitresses and plumbers, even if these checks are anonymous. So, we'd still have a system where the special interests got to determine who can successfully run for office, only we'd have an even harder time documenting it.

The latest incarnation of this idea comes from somebody called the IPundit. You can read it here.

Why do people keep coming up with this solution? Probably because too many reform proponents keep describing the problem in unhelpful ways. They act as if we have a bunch of wonderful people in office, who at the get go are accurately representative of the rest of us. But then, somebody walks into their office and hands them a check (or a big stack of many checks), and suddenly these good, honest people become corrupt and made a decision that does not represent the rest of us but instead benefits the donor. I'm not saying this never happens, but it's a pretty naive view of the world.

The scenario that is closer to reality is that we have the wrong politicians in office in the first place. They don't need to be corrupted by money because they are predisposed to take the special interests side on every occasion. Has anybody noticed that the former CEO of Halburton is now the Vice President of the United States? Does anyone think for one moment that Dick Cheney would be less favorable to Halburton, or other oil companies, if he didn't know how much money they gave him? Dick Cheney IS Halburton. Many members of Congress are basically special interests themselves. Letting big donors give them even more money, as IPundit advocates, and letting them do it anonymously would only make it that much easier for them to buy the election results that they want.

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