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Open Bribery

February 29th, 2008

Sometimes it is rather amazing how openly politicians go about not only accepting bribes, but demanding them. As I understand it, the laws they have drafted to police themselves essentially require a signed confession before bribery can be called bribery.

And still, we have quotes like this:

“It’s quite discouraging,” said one GOP leadership aide, referring to the disparity in giving from the telecommunications industry in light of the FISA debate, but also the broader lack of support for Republicans from the business community in general.

“These companies just won’t do anything,” the aide said. “Even when you have the Democrats working against their bottom line.”…

In short: Republicans are complaining that they are not getting more money from the Telecoms after all that work they have done to try to give the Telecoms immunity from billions of dollars in lawsuits for violating people’s privacy. I would also presume that the Republicans want more money for their attempts to cut down Network Neutrality as well. But the point here is that these Republicans see a definite quid pro quo at work here: we do the Telecoms a huge favor, they owe us money.

It reminds me of the time when Bill Clinton, while president, was assailed by politicians from both parties when he accepted a donation from a black caucus but did not do what they asked him to do. He was castigated for not doing their bidding in exchange for money–the classic definition of a bribe.

So, how overt does a bribe have to be in order for someone to actually act on it? I suppose, with John McCain being surrounded by 30 lobbyists in his campaign and yet the press still lauds him for his campaign finance reform, you have to be pretty damned blatant for anyone to blink an eye.

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  1. Tim Kane
    February 29th, 2008 at 04:34 | #1

    I wanted to mention this early. You wrote perhaps the best piece I’ve seen on McCain’s conundrums with the FEC.

    I mean it was easily the best I’ve read. I’ve read quite a few and yours was much clearer, and much shorter, more cogent etc…. I wouldn’t be surprised if some news sources asked to use it.

    To fix the institutionalized payola problem, I think what we need to do is to try for a system of spending caps.

    Spending caps work real well for the NFL. They are by far the best managed of the major sports leagues in the United States – and it’s all because of the spending caps. The soundness of each sport is a reflection of how committed they are to a system of caps. The NFL has the biggest commitment, though their rules are complex enough. Basketball, likewise has the next best system so they are in the next best shape, but their commitment is less – teams can spend more and but then they have to place a tax. Baseball has the weakest commitment to it and so the most problems. Hockey recently adopted the system, I think, but I know few details. Anyone who likes professional sports and has been to a pro-hockey game knows that it is the best spectator sport by far (though Football is the best TV sport) so it will be interesting to see how Hockey does over the next decade.

    Now imagine how caps could work for political campaigns. You could cap, not just money expenditures, but you could place caps on time. The cap could equate to the amount a candidate would have if every adult in his district gave him $200 or something like that. Or maybe offer each congressperson $1,000,000 cap, and an eight week window in which to spend it. That’s it.

    I think caps would have a much broader ripple effect too. Candidates and politicians don’t like to beg for money. They hate it. Who wouldn’t? So if you and I were running for office, we could agree to a lower cap. Say you and I were running for the congressional district of Eastern Illinois (19th, I believe): mostly farmers. We could each agree to lower the limit to $600k. Say, I am the incumbent, so I don’t mind because everyone already knows my name. You are the challenger, you don’t mind because it’s harder for you to get to $1million.

    So if we had campaign caps we might not only get rid of the payola, but it would lower the amount that gets wasted on campaigns. And if we put limits on time then we don’t have to watch campaigns that now seem to be as long as the term of office.

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