The View From 1776
Friday, February 06, 2009
A Simple, Inescapable Fact
Corruption can be reduced only by reducing the size of the Federal government.
Much is being written about unsavory political influence exercised by the army of Washington lobbyists, who act as conduits for large amounts of influence money from special interest groups. Those special interest groups range from business and environmental groups, to abortion advocates, and labor unions.
Tom Daschle’s exit from nomination as the commissar of a national socialized healthcare system is among the headliners. Another is Leon Panetta, bound for the CIA, coming off large lecture earnings from groups doing millions of dollars worth of business with the CIA. Already fading into the background is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s husband’s big-bucks connections with some of the less reputable characters on the international scene, people against whom Secretary Clinton must represent the interests of the United States.
On the other hand, limiting people’s opportunity to contribute money to help elect and influence representatives friendly to their interests is, apparently to most everyone outside Congress and the Supreme Court, an unconstitutional infringement of First Amendment rights.
If we are not to invade First Amendment rights, what then are we to do?
At the most fundamental level, the problem is what lawyers call an attractive nuisance. If you build a swimming pool it is likely to attract small children, with potentially dire consequences.
If we continually enlarge the size and scope of the Federal government, already the largest dispenser of money in the world, it is not rocket science to forecast that every scoundrel in the world will be looking for ways to game the system or to steal money outright. Notorious bank robber Willie Sutton, when asked why he robbed banks, is supposed to have answered, “Because that’s where the money is.”
Despite the honest best intentions of President Obama, no amount of regulations will stop the plunder. Influence peddling and corruption are so pervasive that even people of the highest standing in their fields are likely to have been tainted by large gifts, sometimes not reported for income tax purposes, from special interests whom they may be asked to regulate.
A simple, inescapable fact is that, if there were many thousands fewer regulations and many billions fewer dollars involved, there would be many fewer lobbyists and much less influence peddling.
Another, less often observed corrupting factor engendered by the mammoth size of the Federal government, is that almost all legislation is initially drafted and negotiated between committees by members of Senators’ and Congressmen’s staffs. Often the elected members of Congress are unaware of the details and loopholes hidden within proposed legislation, simply because they haven’t enough hours in the day to read and study everything carefully. How could they, given the thousands of proposed bills and agency regulations that they are charged to oversee? How could they, when they must be raising tens of thousands of dollars every single day to fund their next re-election campaigns?
It is entirely possible for an honest and public spirited member of Congress to have staff members who are less so, who are being directly influenced by lobbyists.
Howard Kurtz notes in the Washington Post:
In the New Republic, Norm Ornstein opines on Washington’s legal-but-sleazy ethos:
“Jack Abramoff and his colleagues showed that corruption can be painfully blatant. But often a more subtle dynamic is present: congressional staffers, members of Congress, and executive officials answer the phone calls and see the unsavory clients of lobbyists who enjoy prime tickets to Redskins games and golf at Burning Tree or might at some future point be their employers—who wants to alienate someone who might hold the key to a million-dollar job? Laws and regulations get more complicated when drafted by staffers and agency officials who know their market value is much higher when they are the ones who can interpret the nuances or find the loopholes when they leave government service.”
The founders who wrote the Constitution in 1787 deliberately structured, not a democracy, not the tyranny of the majority against which Tocqueville warned us in Democracy in America, but a Federal republic in which the powers of the constituent states were in many areas greater than those of the Federal government. States had an exclusive dominion over all purely local affairs, the so-called police powers to provide for the safety and security of their citizens. That division of powers was intended to be one of the Constitution’s main checks and balances to prevent too much power falling into too few hands. Today those powers have been usurped by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and by other Federal agencies.
Since 1932, with the advent of socialistic collectivism under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the size and scope of the Federal government has expanded exponentially. Before the New Deal, about 70% of all taxes were collected at the state and local level. After 1932, that proportion was reversed. Before 1932, the Federal government had little obvious impact upon the everyday lives of citizens. Since then, there has been no escape from Federal intrusions.
Liberal-progressive-socialists eagerly lobby this Federal juggernaut to impose their statist vision upon the nation. Traditionalists who still believe in the original Constitution feel compelled to lobby for protection of their individual rights against that imposition.
Restoring the states to their original powers and reducing the size and scope of the Federal government back to its original constitutional dimensions would be a long and effective step toward reducing special interest lobbying.
State and local governments can be corrupted, as can any government, but their corruption can’t affect the entire nation at one shot, as it does today, when taxing and regulatory powers are mostly located in Washington. And, state and local governments being smaller and closer to the people, the likelihood is greater that corruption will be revealed and dealt with.