March 4, 2009 · Lessig
Herein brews perhaps the first important battle of reform for this President. I have long thought the President should resign his membership in the Democratic Party — not because he doesn’t or shouldn’t share the values of the Democratic Party, but because it is time we recognize we need a President above either partisanship (which got us the “Contract with America”) or bipartisanship (which got us the Iraq War). But Hoyer’s behavior here makes the point most starkly.
Earmarks are a cancer: Not because they consume a large part of the budget — they don’t; not because we shouldn’t be spending money — we should. But because they feed the system of corruption that is the way Washington works. They are the cornerstone of a system feeding the worst of the lobbying mafia (another plug here for So Damn Much Money), which itself is the cornerstone of K St. capitalism. It was a mistake for Obama not to join McCain in targeting them during the campaign. It is a fantastic thing that he is beginning to target them now.
Cancers can be benign or malignant. This cancer is malignant when it feeds K St. capitalism. It is benign when it is simply a locally informed direction to how the government’s money (aka, the people’s money) should be spent.
And apropo of the benign form of this cancer: I’ve agreed to help Congresswoman Jackie Speier with an experiment for earmark reform. (Decidedly and clearly progressive) Congresswoman Speier voted against the appropriations bill because of the earmarks in the bill. But as reported in the SF Chronicle:
Speier is now trying a novel experiment: She’s put together a citizen’s oversight panel to recommend projects for federal funding, chaired by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, a critic of earmarks, and including local elected, business and labor leaders. If the model works, she may offer legislation to expand it nationally.
The panel will meet in 3 or 4 public hearings over the next month of so to review earmark proposals. We will then report our recommendations back to her.
The citizen panel idea is completely Speier’s. It is a brilliant idea with enormous potential. More on the potential soon.