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Mares: Corruption

07/30/12 7:55AM By Bill Mares
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(Host) The latest report of political contributions for Vermont statewide campaigns has got writer and former state legislator who commentator Bill Mares thinking about a book he recently read on national politics and money.

(Mares) At first the phrase sounds like an oxymoron - behavior that is "lawful but corrupt." But for years, Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig has focused on the erosion of integrity in business, journalism, law, medicine, and especially politics, that leads to this compromising conduct. In his book REPUBLIC, LOST, he makes a depressing case for the near-utter corruption of Congress by money. This is not bags of illegal cash in mid-night parking garage trysts; it's the legal system. Where t he founders meant for the government to be dependent upon the people, alone, we now have a government that is far too dependent upon the funders.

With legislators spending 30-70% of their time chasing money, they resemble alcoholics who are always thinking about the bottle rather than doing their job.

Lessig says the political fund-raising system was already broken before the infamous Citizen United decision of two years ago, which upheld the legality of unlimited independent political expenditures.

Lessig's book is full of examples of how money has become the Alpha and Omega of Congress. The revolving door between Congress and lobbying organizations never seems to stop turning. Temporary tax policy events, like extensions of bills, or raising the debt ceiling create more opportunities for fund-raising. After accepting large campaign contributions, Congress gave Wall Street the power to develop ever more complex financial instruments which Lessig says, "privatize the reward and socialize the risk."
Lessig elegantly describes a complex matrix where lobbying money gives us high corn subsidies, high sugar tariffs, ethanol, High Fructose Corn Syrup, more obesity and by extension far higher health costs.

Last year he noted sarcastically that the country was in the middle of two wars, with huge problems in unemployment, national debt, and health care, but yet "the number one issue Congress focused on was the bank swipe fee crisis. " Why? Because, if you as a Congressman, you pretend you're not quite sure where you stand, all of a sudden tons of cash comes flowing down on top of your campaign.

And if you wonder why Congress has a 17% approval rating - which is less than the King of England had among colonists in 1776 - it's because 75% of Americans believe that money buys results in Congress.

In looking for solutions, Lessig's idealism takes over. He wants a constitutional convention to establish that public elections should be publicly funded, and to make transparent, all contributions and individual expenditures. He wants to reaffirm that when the Declaration of Independence speaks of entities "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," it's meaning applies to natural persons only.

Lessig calls his plan a long shot. "We don't do well responding to bads that stand between good and evil," he says. And compared to problems such as fascism, institutional racism, sexism and other social ills that we've confronted in the 20th century, he admits that "the corrupting influence of money is small. But," he concludes, "unless we solve this, we won't solve anything else."
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