Category Archives: Campaign Finance

Will Lobbying Destroy the American Empire?

Recently, Fareed Zakaria began his Sunday show discussing the deleterious influences of lobbyist on American politics.  

Here are the basics of “Fareed’s Take”

The entire political system creates incentives for venality. Consider just one factor – and there are many – the role of money, which has expanded dramatically over the past four decades. Harvard’s Lawrence Lessig has pointed out that Congressmen now spend three of every five workdays raising money. They also vote with extreme attention to their donors’ interests. Lessig cites studies that demonstrate that donors get a big bang for their campaign bucks – sometimes with returns on their “investment” that would make a venture capital firm proud.

Now, taking money out of politics is a mammoth challenge. So perhaps the best one could hope for is to limit instead what Congress can sell. In other words, enact a thorough reform of the tax code, ridding it of the thousands of special exemptions, credits, and deductions, which are, of course, institutionalized, legalized corruption.

The most depressing aspect of This Town, by Mark Leibovich, is how utterly routine all the influence-peddling has become. In 1990 Ramsay MacMullen, the great Yale historian of Rome, published a book that took on the central question of his field: Why did the greatest empire in the history of the world collapse in the fifth century? The root cause, he explained, was political corruption, which had become systemic in the late Roman Empire. What was once immoral had become accepted as standard practice and what was once illegal was celebrated as the new normal. Many decades from now, a historian looking at where America lost its way could use This Town as a primary source.

Watch the video for the full take and read more in the Washington Post


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August 6, 2013 · 9:09 pm

NY Corruption and the Revolving Door

Last night, Rachel Maddow started her show by discussing New York State’s outrageous public corruption scandal.  The scandal involves New York State Senator Malcolm Smith, New York City Council Member Daniel Halloran, and four others in an six count complain, which alleges bribery, extortion, and fraud charges.  

State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, a former Democrat, allegedly paid off party bosses in order to get on the ballot  in the New York City mayoral race as a Republican. 

 Aside from this blatant corruption, Maddow discussed subtler, routinecorruption–the revolving door between Washington and the private sector.  As an example, Maddow noted former Securities and Exchange Commission  (SEC) chief Mary Schapir.  Schapir, who was tasked with being  Washington’s top bank regulator, recently took a job with a consulting firm which advises banks about compliance with SEC regulations.   

The video (17:55) includes a brief introduction to the rest of the episode, and the relevant part of the story begins just under two minutes in.  

For the FBI press release regarding New York State corruption scandal, click here.

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April 3, 2013 · 6:32 pm

David Strauss: “Campaign Finance First Principles”

University of Chicago Law Professor David Strauss discusses how an ideal democracy would regulate its elections.  Strauss argues that the problem with American campaign finance laws stems from a fundamental distinction that the Supreme Court made in Buckley v. Valeo– between equality and corruption. Buckley held that the only legitimate end of campaign finance reforms laws was to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.  However, equalizing candidates ability to be influential is not a legitimate interest of campaign finance reform.   The Court held that “the concept that government may restrict the speech of some [in] order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.”

Strauss says that this was the original sin of the Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence.  “Equalization” is precisely what campaign finance reform law should do.


It is a law lecture that is  57:55 min.

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March 9, 2013 · 7:27 pm