Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Soooooie! That's how you call donkeys, too.

TOC has written many times on the anti-Constitutional effects of so called "Campaign Finance Reform." We think a better way to spike political corruption would be to require immediate and full disclosure of any and all contributions. Failure to comply would carry heavy penalties.

The ostensible goal of CFR was to get money out of politics. The result was to inject more politics into money. If the problem is money, then there's a better place to focus: lobbying. Lobbying is an activity directed at sitting representatives.

Corruption is a inevitable consequence of the huge payoffs in corporate welfare that regularly result from relatively small lobbying investments. The problem manifests itself in earmarks, market distorting subsidies (a currently favored corporate leech being ethanol) and pet non-profit projects. Where, for example, is the Constitutional authority for funding a Woodstock Museum?

There is no clearer "appearance of corruption," possibly excepting the serial campaign finance debacles involving Asian dishwashers and persons named Clinton (remember Charlie Trie?), than earmarks. The problems of campaign finance and lobbying for federal over-matching funds are parallel, because they both originate as attempts to influence the power of federal legislators' to dispense monetary and regulatory favors. If these elected representatives could not dispense such largesse with impunity, they wouldn't be worth bribing. Impunity is granted by voters, and it cannot be rescinded by federal statute. Unfortunately, American voters are easily, if no longer inexpensively, bribed - and they are generally insensitive to the fact it's done with their own money.

The Constitution was written with a mind toward preventing this corruption by limiting government, but we no longer follow the restrictions it imposed. Review the Tenth Amendment. It will take 15 seconds.

Captain's Quarters provides an idea of the lobby leverage engendered by a corrupted Congressional power to spend:

L-3 Communications: #1 on this list [of Congressional district beneficiaries], will get $69.5 million in earmarks for $140,000 of lobbying. They had almost $6 billion in government contracts in 2006, only 27% of which came from competitive bids. Jim Moran (D) and Chip Pickering (R) top the list of Congressional district beneficiaries of these contracts.

DRS Technologies: They will get $31.5 million in earmarks, but paid more than $1.3 million in lobbying to get it, making it the worst return on investment in the top 10 firms -- still a whopping 2400%. They had to compete for 58% of their $1.2 billion in government contracts in 2006. James Moran's district got the biggest slice of DRS spending, too.

Raytheon: The venerable defense contractor wins $30 million off of almost a million in lobbying costs. Only 16% of their 2006 contracts came from fully competitive bidding. Marty Meehan's Congressional district got over a billion of Raytheon's largesse, which means Nikki Tsongas has a good cushion of pork coming into her freshman season in the House.

General Dynamics: They got $26 million from $580,000 in lobbying. In 2006, less than a third of their $11 billion in government contracts came through fully competitive bidding. Bernie Sanders and Washington DC are the two big winners in GD spending for 2006.

Do people get the picture? Pork-barrel politics helps secure sinecures for beneficiaries, helping to perpetuate non-competitive procurement. In return, the politicians get plenty of lobbyist attention and make it more difficult for voters to hold them accountable for their performance. That's bad enough with any appropriation bill at any time, but for politicians to play these games with defense spending in a time of war is particularly despicable.
This is a short, and disgusting, list. Imagine the power of regular, full disclosure applied to lobbying and campaign contributions. If Americans could come to understand that any money they send to Washington pols immediately becomes "spoils," maybe there'd be enough outrage to encourage electing representatives who would consider it to be as unethical as it is.

However, Americans will never understand it as long as the argument is about "the children," instead of the value of limited government. Limited government means limited opportunity for corruption. "For the children" is code for "more opportunity for corrupt demagogues."

The Alaskan "bridge to nowhere" attracted a relatively small level of MSM attention, and a larger degree of public disgust. If the MSM wanted to do something to help the Republic, they could unrelentingly publish the details of the pork, and highlight the most egregious examples with headlines.

Full disclosure of pork and campaign finance is a better way for Americans to determine the government they deserve, however tawdry it might turn out. At least they would have no one else to blame.

On the topic of who to blame, it is true that both parties are culpable, but you have to go very deep in a Club for Growth list of the voting records on 15 anti-pork amendments to find the Democrats. Only one appears in the "top" 38, and that cut-off represents an anti-pork score of a whopping 40%.

Read the whole thing, but here are some -lights, both high and low:
* Only three senators received a perfect score of 100% (and were
present for a majority of the votes): Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jim
DeMint (R-SC), and Richard Burr (R-NC).

* The only senator receiving a 0% was Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD)
who voted against all 10 anti-pork amendments he was present for.

* The average Republican score was 59%; the average Democratic
score was 12%.

* The best scoring Democrat was Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) with
an impressive 80%, tying with or scoring better than thirty-nine
Republican senators.

* Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) scored a 53%; Majority
Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) scored a 7%, voting for only one amendment.

* Only two amendments were successful. The most popular amendment
was offered by Senator DeMint to bar the use of funds appropriated for
spinach growers in the Iraq Supplemental Bill (Roll Call #123,
03/29/07); it passed 97-0. The other amendment was offered by Senator
Coburn to eliminate $1 million for a museum dedicated to the Woodstock
Festival (Roll Call #377, 10/18/07); it passed 52-42.

Some of the targeted pork projects this year include:

* $100 million for the 2008 Republican and Democratic nominating
conventions. Amendment failed 45-51.

* Adding sand to San Diego*s beaches. Amendment failed 12-77.

* Millions of dollars for bicycle paths instead of using the funds
to improve bridge safety. Amendment failed 18-80. Watch Senator Coburn
talk about his amendment.

* A visitors' center in Louisiana instead of providing shelter for
victims of Hurricane Katrina. Amendment failed 11-79.

* Funds for a baseball field in Montana, the International Peace
Garden in North Dakota, and a wetlands center in Louisiana. Amendment
failed 32-63.

* $2 million for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at
City College of New York, requested by Charles B. Rangel. Amendment
failed 34-61.
It's no better in the House:
* Sixteen congressmen scored a perfect 100%, voting for all 50
anti-pork amendments. They are all Republicans.

* The average Republican score was 43%. The average Democratic
score was 2%.

* The average score for appropriators was 4%. The average score for
non-appropriators was 25%.

* Kudos to Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) who scored an admirable 98%-the
only Democrat to score above 20%.

* Rep. David Obey (D-WI) did not vote for his own amendment to
strike all earmarks in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill. Rep. Obey
scored an embarrassing 0% overall.

* 105 congressmen scored an embarrassing 0%, voting against every
single amendment. The Pork Hall of Shame includes 81 Democrats and 24
Republicans.

* The Democratic Freshmen scored an abysmal average score of 2%.
Their Republican counterparts scored an average score of 78%.

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