Monday, January 16, 2012

MONEY IN POLITICS

When I was sworn in as a Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court in 1967, my salary was $35,000 a year. Adjusted for inflation, that would be equal to $237,067 today.

The compensation of the justices has not kept pace with inflation. Today, they are paid $164,610.

Supreme Court Justices in Michigan are elected on a state wide ballot. My campaign in 1966 cost about $60,000. By contrast, supporters of current incumbents have spent as much as ten million dollars to secure a seat on the court.

No doubt the story in Washington is similar. Probably worse.

Month or so ago, I got a letter from Marco Rubio. Very bright, attractive young Senator from Florida, who was elected in 2010. He’s getting a lot of attention as an up and coming new Republican.

What caught my eye was the fact that his letter pitched for a campaign contribution.

Campaign contribution?

This fellow was just elected in 2010. He doesn’t have to run for reelection until 2016. That’s still four years away.

In his book, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress, Lawrence Lessig describes the unholy alliance between members of Congress and the battery of lobbyists who dwell on K Street in the nation’s Capital.

Lessig insists it’s not bribery. At least not in the crass quid pro quo Blagojevich mode. But the fact that solicitations and contributions are made with finesse does not alter the nature of the beast. Congressmen and Senators ask for money all the time. And they ask the people they think are most likely to give.

The antidote offered by our politicians has been to create the Federal Election Commission. The Commission is what is known as an independent regulatory agency. Its six Commissioners, three Republican and three Democrat, are appointed by the President, confirmed by the Senate.

I took a look at the Rules and Regulations published by the FEC. The Index alone ran to 19 pages.

The Federal Election Commission has adopted a multitude of complicated rules and regulations. Truly marvelous examples of bureaucratic obfuscation.

And while lobbyists wine and dine the members of Congress and pour money into the coffers of their campaign funds, what does the Federal Election Commission spend their time, energy and budget doing?

Suing the Wisconsin Right To Life Organization. I’ll bet you didn’t know the Wisconsin Right To Life Organization is the principal source of corruption in Washington D.C.

I sure didn’t.

WRTL was running ads critical of Senate filibusters blocking the appointment of pro life judges. It took the Supreme Court of the United States to remind the FEC that the First Amendment is still in effect.

The very idea that the culture of corruption in the nation’s capital can be reversed by a regulatory agency is absurd. Even if they could bug every booth in every restaurant from Chevy Chase to Falls Church, and point surveillance cameras at every park bench, they could not begin to police the incessant give and take between the legislators and the legislated.

The problem with money in politics has to be addressed structurally. I gave the powers that be some ideas on how to get the money out of Michigan Supreme Court elections. The ball’s in their court.

In Washington, the reformers are divided. Some want to stop the flow of money by more regulation, more bureaucrats, more lawsuits and injunctions.

Others are a little more fundamental. I’m with them.

They say that we have to get the federal government out of the economy. Turn off the spigot of federal dollars, the bailouts, the stimuli, the give aways, the government sponsored enterprises, the loans and gifts and grants and special privileges, exemptions and loopholes that attract money to Washington.

2 comments:

  1. What about citizens united v. Fec which allows unlimited money to be given to super pacs with no disclosure. This is destroying our republic.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @GMan

    That's no more destructive than AFSCME and the other mega-unions donating unlimited money to their candidates.

    ReplyDelete