The Musings of

Something full of magic, religion, bullsh*t.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Good government at a fair price

What exactly is good government? Jefferson thought it was one that "effectively secures the rights of the people and the fruits of their labor, promotes their happiness, and does their will." Somehow that the definition has narrowed over the past 200 years to simply making sure there's no hanky-panky going on in the legislature. Instead of being concerned about the end legislative product, good government advocates fret over such things as so-called "campaign finance reform" and ending penny-ante gifts from lobbyists to legislators. Of course, the former is nothing but a bureaucratic power grab and an attempt by the party raising less from big donors to limit the other party's advantage, and the latter is what I like to call a "trophy wife" argument: it looks good but doesn't really do anything.

Years ago, I worked for a congressman, and the two of us were sitting at some industry group's annual Capitol luncheon on the Hill. We were munching on turkey sandwiches and the congressman picked his up,looked at it and said, "Do you know there are people out there who believe my vote can be bought by a mere turkey sandwich?" Looking around, he continued, "This luncheon has absolutely nothing to do with bribing me, but is all a big piece of theater designed by the lobbyist to justify his budget. He puts on this thing, invites a couple dozen congressmen from important committees, and has the board members of his association and the officers and directors of the association's corporate clients all fly in to the Capitol from Peoria and Omaha. When they get here, he takes them around table to table and introduces them to the legislators by name. His sole intent is for the rubes to head back home thinking that he must be doing a fine job considering all the congressmen he knows." Sure enough, not five minutes later the parade of corporate vice presidents began.

I am not suggesting that there have not been cases of lobbyists trying to buy votes from legislators, but to claim a total gift ban would somehow stop payola is like suggesting a law to stop the concealed carry of a gun will stop armed robbery. If the good government types are really concerned about a few steak dinners determining the course of state health insurance legislation then they should focus on disclosure bills that would make any gift giving public information. If the voters don't like who their legislators are eating with, then they have very effective ways of ending their freeloading.
Centinel 3:19 PM #


Post a Comment