February 25, 2009  ·  Lessig

Untitled

Jeff Flake (AZ-6, Republican) has introduced a resolution to call for an investigation about the relationship between earmarks and campaign funding. Having just finished Kaiser’s amazing book, So Damn Much Money, I am confirmed in a suspicion I had before the election: that Flake/McCain were right to be so exercised about earmarks, and Obama/Dems were wrong.

The point is not the total amount of earmarks. Indeed, for a liberal like me, I’m keen to see the government spend money (wisely, at least). The point instead is the corruption that the earmarking system engenders. The history of earmarks is the history of a business model, with lobbyists at the core, a Congress dependent upon campaign funding at the edge, and a world of staffers, bureaucrats and former Members keen not to upset their future employers (the lobbyists).

But of course, one simple solution to this “problem” with earmarks would be to remove the corrupting connection — to campaign finance. And the simplest way to do that would be to follow Teddy Roosevelt’s other fantastic idea from 100 years ago — Citizen Funded Elections.

Thus, yet another reason to join the strike — don’t give money to politicians who don’t irrevocably commit to citizen funded elections.

  • http://crashsystems.net crashsystems

    It is refreshing to hear you, as a self proclaimed liberal, say that a Republican was right about something and that your candidate was wrong, just as it is refreshing for me to hear a Republican say that a Democrat was right about something. I gave up partisan politics several years ago, and am glad to see that there are others that can see past the Democrat/Republican line.

    You are absolutely right about Citizen Funded Elections, of course!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003413196174 Alexander

      e2809cWee28099re spending $1 miiolln more a day than wee28099re taking in. I have a golf date. Good luck!e2809d That was the most cheerful news we were to hear for quite some time.California state government was increasing by about 5,000 new employees a year. We were the welfare capital of the world with 16 percent of the natione28099s caseload. Soon, Californiae28099s caseload was increasing by 40,000 a month.We turned to the people themselves for help. Two hundred and fifty experts in the various fields volunteered to serve on task forces at no cost to the taxpayers. They went into every department of state government and came back with 1,800 recommendations on how modern business practices could be used to make government more efficient. We adopted 1,600 of them.We instituted a policy of e2809ccut, squeeze and trime2809d and froze the hiring of employees as replacements for retiring employees or others leaving state service.After a few years of struggling with the professional welfarists, we again turned to the people. First, we obtained another task force and, when the legislature refused to help implement its recommendations, we presented the recommendations to the electorate.It still took some doing. The legislature insisted our reforms would not work; that the needy would starve in the streets; that the workload would be dumped on the counties; that property taxes would go up and that wee28099d run up a deficit the first year of $750 miiolln.That was four years ago. Today, the needy have had an average increase of 43 percent in welfare grants in California, but the taxpayers have saved $2 billion by the caseload not increasing that 40,000 a month. Instead, there are some 400,000 fewer on welfare today than then.Forty of the statee28099s 58 counties have reduced property taxes for two years in a row (some for three). That $750-miiolln deficit turned into an $850-miiolln surplus which we returned to the people in a one-time tax rebate. That wasne28099t easy. One state senator described that rebate as e2809can unnecessary expenditure of public funds.e2809dFor more than two decades governmentse28094federal, state, locale28094have been increasing in size two-and-a-half times faster than the population increase. In the last 10 years they have increased the cost in payroll seven times as fast as the increase in numbers.We have just turned over to a new administration in Sacramento a government virtually the same size it was eight years ago. With the statee28099s growth rate, this means that government absorbed a workload increase, in some departments as much as 66 percent.We also turned overe28094for the first time in almost a quarter of a centurye28094a balanced budget and a surplus of $500 miiolln. In these eight years just passed, we returned to the people in rebates, tax reductions and bridge toll reductions $5.7 billion. All of this is contrary to the will of those who deplore conservatism and profess to be liberals, yet all of it is pleasing to its citizenry.Make no mistake, the leadership of the Democratic party is still out of step with the majority of Americans.Speaker Carl Albert recently was quoted as saying that our problem is e2809c60 percent recession, 30 percent inflation and 10 percent energy.e2809d That makes as much sense as saying two and two make 22.Without inflation there would be no recession. And unless we curb inflation we can see the end of our society and economic system. The painful fact is we can only halt inflation by undergoing a period of economic dislocatione28094a recession, if you will.We can take steps to ease the suffering of some who will be hurt more than others, but if we turn from fighting inflation and adopt a program only to fight recession we are on the road to disaster.In his first address to Congress, the president asked Congress to join him in an all-out effort to balance the budget. I think all of us wish that he had re-issued that speech instead of this yeare28099s budget message.What side can be taken in a debate over whether the deficit should be $52 billion or $70 billion or $80 billion preferred by the profligate Congress?Inflation has one cause and one cause only: government spending more than government takes in. And the cure to inflation is a balanced budget. We know, of course, that after 40 years of social tinkering and Keynesian experimentation that we cane28099t do this all at once, but it can be achieved. Balancing the budget is like protecting your virtue: you have to learn to say e2809cno.e2809dThis is no time to repeat the shopworn panaceas of the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Great Society. John Kenneth Galbraith, who, in my opinion, is living proof that economics is an inexact science, has written a new book. It is called e2809cEconomics and the Public Purpose.e2809d In it, he asserts that market arrangements in our economy have given us inadequate housing, terrible mass transit, poor health care and a host of other miseries. And then, for the first time to my knowledge, he advances socialism as the answer to our problems.Shorn of all side issues and extraneous matter, the problem underlying all others is the worldwide contest for the hearts and minds of mankind. Do we find the answers to human misery in freedom as it is known, or do we sink into the deadly dullness of the Socialist ant heap?Those who suggest that the latter is some kind of solution are, I think, open to challenge. Lete28099s have no more theorizing when actual comparison is possible. There is in the world a great nation, larger than ours in territory and populated with 250 miiolln capable people. It is rich in resources and has had more than 50 uninterrupted years to practice socialism without opposition.We could match them, but it would take a little doing on our part. Wee28099d have to cut our paychecks back by 75 percent; move 60 miiolln workers back to the farm; abandon two-thirds of our steel-making capacity; destroy 40 miiolln television sets; tear up 14 of every 15 miles of highway; junk 19 of every 20 automobiles; tear up two-thirds of our railroad track; knock down 70 percent of our houses; and rip out nine out of every 10 telephones. Then, all we have to do is find a capitalist country to sell us wheat on credit to keep us from starving!Our people are in a time of discontent. Our vital energy supplies are threatened by possibly the most powerful cartel in human history. Our traditional allies in Western Europe are experiencing political and economic instability bordering on chaos.We seem to be increasingly alone in a world grown more hostile, but we let our defenses shrink to pre-Pearl Harbor levels. And we are conscious that in Moscow the crash build-up of arms continues. The SALT II agreement in Vladivostok, if not re-negotiated, guarantees the Soviets a clear missile superiority sufficient to make a e2809cfirst strikee2809d possible, with little fear of reprisal. Yet, too many congressmen demand further cuts in our own defenses, including delay if not cancellation of the B-1 bomber.I realize that miiollns of Americans are sick of hearing about Indochina, and perhaps it is politically unwise to talk of our obligation to Cambodia and South Vietnam. But we pledgede28094in an agreement that brought our men home and freed our prisonerse28094to give our allies arms and ammunition to replace on a one-for-one basis what they expend in resisting the aggression of the Communists who are violating the cease-fire and are fully aided by their Soviet and Red Chinese allies. Congress has already reduced the appropriation to half of what they need and threatens to reduce it even more.Can we live with ourselves if we, as a nation, betray our friends and ignore our pledged word? And, if we do, who would ever trust us again? To consider committing such an act so contrary to our deepest ideals is symptomatic of the erosion of standards and values. And this adds to our discontent.We did not seek world leadership; it was thrust upon us. It has been our destiny almost from the first moment this land was settled. If we fail to keep our rendezvous with destiny or, as John Winthrop said in 1630, e2809cDeal falsely with our God,e2809d we shall be made e2809ca story and byword throughout the world.e2809dAmericans are hungry to feel once again a sense of mission and greatness.I don e28098t know about you, but I am impatient with those Republicans who after the last election rushed into print saying, e2809cWe must broaden the base of our partye2809de28094when what they meant was to fuzz up and blur even more the differences between ourselves and our opponents.It was a feeling that there was not a sufficient difference now between the parties that kept a majority of the voters away from the polls. When have we ever advocated a closed-door policy? Who has ever been barred from participating?Our people look for a cause to believe in. Is it a third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people?Let us show that we stand for fiscal integrity and sound money and above all for an end to deficit spending, with ultimate retirement of the national debt.Let us also include a permanent limit on the percentage of the peoplee28099s earnings government can take without their consent.Let our banner proclaim a genuine tax reform that will begin by simplifying the income tax so that workers can compute their obligation without having to employ legal help.And let it provide indexinge28094adjusting the brackets to the cost of livinge28094so that an increase in salary merely to keep pace with inflation does not move the taxpayer into a surtax bracket. Failure to provide this means an increase in governmente28099s share and would make the worker worse off than he was before he got the raise.Let our banner proclaim our belief in a free market as the greatest provider for the people. Let us also call for an end to the nit-picking, the harassment and over-regulation of business and industry which restricts expansion and our ability to compete in world markets.Let us explore ways to ward off socialism, not by increasing governmente28099s coercive power, but by increasing participation by the people in the ownership of our industrial machine.Our banner must recognize the responsibility of government to protect the law-abiding, holding those who commit misdeeds personally accountable.And we must make it plain to international adventurers that our love of peace stops short of e2809cpeace at any price.e2809dWe will maintain whatever level of strength is necessary to preserve our free way of life.A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, or simply to swell its numbers.I do not believe I have proposed anything that is contrary to what has been considered Republican principle. It is at the same time the very basis of conservatism. It is time to reassert that principle and raise it to full view. And if there are those who cannot subscribe to these principles, then let them go their way.

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  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    Didn’t your colleague/friend/first-choice just get elected president because people were able to donate private funds to such a long shot recent state senator early in his campaign? You might call this crowd-sourcing or wisdom of the crowd.

    While I generally like the idea of public funding elections, only hopeless utopians see “simple solutions,” you know the ones that have been “fantastic” for 100 years.

    And you may want to read Obama’s book on the problems candidates have when asked for commitments (like they are forced to break them on public financing), although Obama is far from the first to note the problems.

  • http://reagle.org/joseph Joseph Reagle

    What is an “earmark” — since everyone is railing against them? I’ve consulted the Wikipedia article which is helpful and leads me to ask if the anti-earmark position is that only the executive branch should be able to fund specific programs under agency funding — which then should have merit/low-bid procedures associated with it?

  • http://L.Bukys.org Liudvikas Bukys

    Why is an earmark involving lobbyists and campaign finance payback more corrupt than an earmark that directly buys votes from voters? Either one skews the decision process, favoring particular focused interests over the more diffuse general interest.

  • Tom

    When using IE then there is a floating “Wijit” thingy blocking the text and images of each post. It has been there for MONTHS. Please REMOVE IT!

  • http://www.enfranchisedmind.com/blog Brian Hurt

    This started as a comment, but got too long, so now it’s a blog post.

    I’m not joining the strike. See here for why.

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    Lessig, unless you want to be known as the computer-illiterate John McCain, of the Web with an open system, you know the Internet, you have to test how you page looks on various browsers. Microsoft IE is used by about 2/3 of the masses, but perhaps not by Apple using elites. If you don’t or can’t install IE, Firefox on your computer, I would suggest stopping by your local or school library from time to time to see how your web page looks on different computers. AND GET RID OF THE MISFUNCTIONING WIDGET. And visiting the library might keep you grounded less you end up out of touch with real people who have to use library computers for internet access.

  • MattJ

    What ‘earmarks’? Have you read the bill? There just are not many ‘earmarks’.

    But there is something even more important you and Flake are systematically forgetting or ignoring. We are in a very different phase of the business cycle than we were even just 3 months ago. Now, government spending is a good thing, even a very good thing. Whether it be ‘efficient’ or not is of far, far lesser importance now.

    Yet efficiency has not been neglected. On the contrary: every item I saw in the bill has been carefully chosen to either be a long lasting improvement to our infrastructure, or have a large ‘mulitplier’, or even both.

    But both attributes are great for economic stimulus, which is what these spending bills are meant to achieve.

    We need this stimulus, we need it very badly. That is the reality of the phase we are now at in the business cycle. Any less stimulus would be a very serious case of “flaking out”!

  • TobB

    MattJ, why do you trust the government implicitly with your money? To be either efficient or moral with it?

  • http://lippard.blogspot.com/ Jim Lippard

    And how effective has the Clean Elections program in Arizona been at removing incumbents who serve special interests? I think the answer is “not at all.”

    The corrupting influence isn’t (merely) campaign finance–it’s the amount of money government spends.

  • Jardinero1

    We currently have citizen funded elections. Any citizen can fund any candidate he or she so desires… or not. What you are proposing is compulsory citizen funding of elections. The question I keep asking and no one answers is: How do you justify compulsory funding of a candidate I don’t support. In that same vein, how do you justify stripping my right to fund lobby groups who work on my behalf to promote causes I support?

  • MattJ

    To TobB:

    How much ‘trust’ do you think I am showing them? I think you are reading into my post things that are simply not there.

    My trust in teh government for spending my tax dollars has its limits. But I do have at least some trust, because they are, after all, accountable to the voters.

    In fact, this last election, one of the reasons the Republicans were so thoroughly trounced is because they abused this trust. The rubber-stamp Republican Congress during Bush’s earlier years failed to show accountability to the voters. They failed in a spectacular way, refusing to even LIST the war expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan in the budget!

    The Democrats have never been THAT irresponsible, nor do I expect them to do anything so irresponsible under the Obama Administration.

  • MattJ

    I don’t trust the previous CAPTCHA entry, so I am repeating this. I ask the Moderator not to repeat the post unnecessarily.

    To TobB:

    How much ‘trust’ do you think I am showing them? I think you are reading into my post things that are simply not there.

    My trust in teh government for spending my tax dollars has its limits. But I do have at least some trust, because they are, after all, accountable to the voters.

    In fact, this last election, one of the reasons the Republicans were so thoroughly trounced is because they abused this trust. The rubber-stamp Republican Congress during Bush’s earlier years failed to show accountability to the voters. They failed in a spectacular way, refusing to even LIST the war expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan in the budget!

    The Democrats have never been THAT irresponsible, nor do I expect them to do anything so irresponsible under the Obama Administration.

  • http://www.LanguageAndPeace.com Josh SN

    The Democratic Party took the initiative and passed the only recent reforms of the earmark process, including, a step in the openness direction, declaring who wanted each earmark.

    What’s going on, it seems to me, is that there is just so much money being controlled out by Washington, D.C. that no set of 100, nor 435 people, can reasonably be expected to (know about/understand) how every dollar of it is spent. A more competent Congress could do this better, but I doubt any human could truly understand the entire thing. Instead they rely on staff, whistleblowers (not enough) and each other. The part where they rely on each other is the earmark process.

    Are they reliable? Certainly not entirely. Are they corrupt? Certainly in some cases. Is earmarking inherently evil? Only when (and this is in most cases nowadays) a motion on the division of the question is not allowed.

  • TobB

    MattJ, it’s interesting that you don’t answer my question about efficiency or morality…instead you state I’m misunderstanding the trust you are showing them. Then you go on to say you do trust them. Apparently, I wasn’t reading into anything. I was not making a judgement call on whether your trust was warranted or not, I was just asking why. The judgement you feel I am showing you seems to come from a different place.

    Again, you at least have a small degree of trust, as you trust the democrats won’t be as irresponsible. That statement is a pure faith statement, not one based in any factual reference. So therefore once again: why do you trust the government implicitly to be efficient or moral with your money?

  • TobB

    Also, one tangential question to my previous post. You mention your trust in goverment has it’s limits. I’m curious to know what those limits are? I’m exploring this question myself, and I sincerely want to know. I am not intending this to provoke.

  • http://facingthesharks.com SharkGirl

    Where can I get a copy of the resolution Rep. Flake introduced?

    I could use it in my formal complaint against Robins Air Force Base earmarks and the links between their pet corporation (Intergraph) and Intergraph’s lobbyists (Hurt Norton Associates and Van Scoyoc Associates) and the politicians that got the earmarks for Intergraph. (Sen. Chambliss, Sen. Isakson, Rep. Kingston, Rep. Cramer) as well as the link between these people and Rep. Murtha and PMA Group.

    I’m writing the formal complaint and it’s going to be presented to the ethics committee, FBI, OSI, IG, GAO, each of the politicians involved, and Robins AFB. I just don’t know how to word the complaint. The District Court and Court of Federal Claims say I can’t come before them until I first follow administrative procedures and get a resolution receipt from the parties involved. I need to file the complaint, then it forces Robins AFB into an investigation. If they fail, I get to file in the Court of Federal Claims.

  • http://facingthesharks.com SharkGirl

    Jardinero1: Said:

    ” How do you justify compulsory funding of a candidate I don’t support. In that same vein, how do you justify stripping my right to fund lobby groups who work on my behalf to promote causes I support?”

    When the donations become a wedge for you to tilt legislation for your causes, against the will of the people, or against fair and open competition, then your so-called “rights” need to be stripped.

    The government was not put in place for corporations, their lobbyists and/or their lawyers to have bills written specifically to fund your causes. This is still America and last time I checked, it’s about “we the people” NOT “we the top donors of the lawmakers”

    I’m in a multimillion dollar lawsuit in five courts right now because of the earmarks and politician-in-a-pocket deals. I have had several politicians refuse to help me because they get funding from the defendants, their lawyers and their lobbyists. Senator Chambliss’ staff refused my complaint because, and I quote; “We depend on (defendant’s name) to raise funding for us.”

    These politicians were not elected so they could write legislation on your behalf and I hope there’s is such a huge investigation of earmarks that Congress trembles. I hope to be one of the leaders that brings about that huge investigation.

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