OpEd by: Stu Cvrk
“Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” – attributed to Jessie Uhruh, California State Treasurer, 1966.
Jessie Unruh codified what the American political class have long known. Unfortunately, although many people suspect this, a paltry few regular Americans are aware of just how corrupt and rigged the system really is. Why is that so? For starters, most are unaware that the cost of a congressional campaign (as but one example) continues to skyrocket, as this old graphic indicates. It’s more expensive now!
But there is more. Check out the disparity between incumbent and challenger spending in this graphic. No wonder incumbents are re-elected to the tune of over 95%! It’s all about the money!
We have now learned that in order to get elected to Congress, a LOT of money is required to run a campaign: for media advertising, campaign staffs, travel, campaign materials/paraphernalia, etc.
Why would anyone pursue high office? Because most of these people consider the cost of campaigning to be just an investment, with the big payoff coming once elected. This is because the federal budget has grown to gargantuan size, and accountability for all of the federal spending is woefully inadequate (and downright nonexistent, for all practical purposes!). What that means is that federal money can be diverted by special earmarks to favored contributors/donors, and then “rebated” under the table either directly over via offshore accounts and/or close relatives.
But even that is not the total story. Politics is all about the art of lying and leverage, and money is the lubricant that makes it all happen. What does that mean? Here’s my take.
Let’s start with lying. It is axiomatic that all politicians lie. Can you think of ANYBODY in the political class who doesn’t lie on a regular basis? I find the rankings at this website to be instructive, given the 24×7 anti-Trump focus by the legacy media.
Why do they lie? A politician’s sole goal is to be reelected, and that requires a constant influx of massive campaign contributions. Why not tell various donors/groups what they wish to hear (i.e., situational lying), as opposed to speaking the truth? Who but voters will hold them accountable? And as we’ve seen, incumbents have the distinct re-election advantage, and the legacy media only holds conservative Republicans accountable for what they say, so what’s the downside when Uniparty politicians lie? And what percentage of Americans are paying close enough attention to discern the lies in the first place? The number of people clueless about economics, foreign policy, taxes and regulations, social policy, etc., seems to be growing with each passing year.
Okay, that’s the lying part; what about “leverage”? Elected politicians exploit leverage as a matter of normal modus operandi. Congress controls tax and regulatory policies. These days, that equates to tax/regulatory breaks for favored businesses (donors!) or – the inverse – increased taxes and regulations on unfavored competitors (squelching competition of donors). Why do you suppose Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Big Pharma, and even foreign countries maintain a significant lobbying presence in DC, frequently including paid former congressmen, senators, senior bureaucrats, and executive and legislative branch staffers? Because Congressmen and senators have immense leverage that can make or break both domestic and foreign companies. And that leverage is used for the purpose of collecting campaign contributions. It has nothing to do with campaign promises or ideology or principles.
And of course, the grease for the wheels of lying and leverage is MONEY! All roads lead to money in politics:
- Lying to constituents and donors to solicit campaign contributions.
- Well-heeled donors and lobbyists buying congressional favors (earmarks, tax breaks, etc.).
- Committee chairmen running a “protection racket” (leverage) to squeeze businesses for campaign contributions.
- Party leaders controlling their members by leveraging the dispersal of funds for reelection campaigns.
- And of course, there is the corruption inherent in an unaudited gargantuan federal budget.
Then there’s this article about corruption in the Democrat Party. Who knew that this is how they operated? Some excerpts:
“The “DCCC Points Program,” as it is dubbed in an internal document, rewards members for their involvement in recruitment efforts and kicks them points if they raise money for the party’s House campaign arm, vulnerable incumbents, and candidates vying to flip swing districts. Pelosi is sitting atop the leaderboard with 279 points, while most members have none or just a few.
Power is accumulated in the House by raising and dispersing money to colleagues, a dynamic pioneered by Pelosi’s quasi-mentor, the late Rep. Phil Burton, who once held Pelosi’s seat; it’s now a bipartisan practice. This has been formalized with the DCCC’s decades-old practice of asking members to pay “dues” to the party committee in charge of reelection efforts and reallocating that money to contested races. Democrats in leadership positions, or who chair so-called money committees, are required to pay higher dues than back benchers. Members are also given a target amount of money they are expected to raise directly for the DCCC, which is separate from their dues payment.
Members of Congress who pay their dues and hit their targets are rewarded with better committee assignments in the future, and more favorable treatment of legislation they author, than members who shirk their dues. Members who don’t pay, for instance, are less likely to have their bills or amendments get a floor or committee vote. The dues for the 2020 cycle, according to the DCCC dues document, range from $150,000 at the low level to $1,000,000 for the speaker of the House.
The document lays out the price of particular committee assignments. Leadership posts for the second, third, and fourth-ranking Democrats — currently Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, and Ben Ray Luján — range from $900,000 down to $700,000. The next tier of leadership, which includes Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos, and others, costs just $575,000. Lower-ranking members of leadership owe between $400,000 and $500,000. That’s less than the chairs of exclusive committees have to chip in. Those four — Richard Neal, (Ways and Means) Frank Pallone, (Energy and Commerce); Nita Lowey, (Appropriations); and Maxine Waters, (Financial Services) — owe $600,000 each for their gavels. An individual seat on a money committee, meanwhile, will run a member of Congress $250,000. Sad sack rank-and-filers not privileged enough to sit on a money committee owe just $150,000.”
Read the rest here.
This is systematic corruption that ultimately captures EVERY serving member of Congress over time (the Republicans have a similar system). This is why there are very few mavericks in either party who buck their party leadership in Congress. The money leverage exerted by the party leadership is profound and has a corrupting influence on newly elected members. Even with term limits in place to flush Congress on a regular basis, the money system stays in place to keep the corruption and control going.
Getting reelected is “Job #1” for every serving member. To be reelected requires enormous sums of money on a regular basis. Getting that money requires compromising one’s principles (not that many members of the political class have them these days). Successful politicians have learned to lie and use their committee/subcommittee membership leverage with impunity. And it all gets down to money. You don’t really think your representative or senators are incorruptible, do you?
I honestly think that given the size and reach of the federal government these days, it is impossible to extract money from the political equation. There is just too much at stake for businesses and individuals not to use contributions to influence legislation. The political class has assiduously implemented practices that favor incumbents, e.g., franking privileges, the McCain-Feingold Act, and the point system described in this article.
And the FBI – once a watchdog for congressional corruption – has itself been corrupted and turned into a kind of Praetorian guard for the political class instead of fulfilling one of its main functions. Here is how the FBI itself describes its origins; somewhere along the way, the FBI took a wrong turn, given what we’ve learned about the likes of Comey, McCabe, Strzok, and others!
If I were king for a day, I would implement and enforce sunshine and transparency laws at all levels of government. One of the biggest problems we have is that government operations and the process of generating legislation that becomes law are virtually opaque to most citizens. How many of us knew about the Democrats’ point system? We have great difficulty finding out who contributes to which candidates. These transactions need to be made public the moment contributions are made – with full disclosure!
We need transparency across all lobbying groups, and that includes non-profit organizations, too, because many are intimately involved in the political process (oftentimes illegally!). While tax-exempt nonprofits are required to provide their three most recently filed annual information returns (IRS Form 990), they need to provide complete donor information, too. We need to know who is donating how much to which nonprofits in near real-time. And a system needs to be implemented that provides “instant transparency” for identifying and making public all campaign contributions provided to any/all candidates for political office within two business days of each transaction, including the name of individual/organization.
Informed citizens are necessary for the preservation of the Republic. The political class likes to operate behind closed doors and in the shadows, particularly when deals are struck and money changes hands. We need to force transparency down their collective throats.
Stu Cvrk served 30 years in the US Navy in a variety of active and reserve capacities, with considerable operational experience in the Middle East and the Western Pacific. An oceanographer and systems analyst through education and experience, he is semi-retired and presently works part-time for a defense contractor in support of a number of Navy command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programs ashore and afloat. Stu is a graduate of the US Naval Academy where he received a classical liberal education which serves as the key foundation for his political commentary. He threads daily on Twitter on a wide range of political, military, foreign policy, government, economics, and world affairs topics.
Follow Stu on Twitter @STUinSD