The battle over spending

The battle over spending

August 26th, 2010 in Opinion Times

Politicians are rarely inclined to support campaign reform measures that would come between them and their biggest donors, or open the door for more civic-minded opponents who would run against them. So it's no surprise that Sen. Bob Corker, who will visit this paper today to discuss the need to ratchet down federal debt, will also be panned at a noon MoveOn.org rally downtown for refusing sign on as a supporter of the proposed Fair Elections Now Act.

The irony, of course, is that there is a strong, direct connection between campaign reform and MoveOn.org's goals, on the one side, and debt reduction on the other.

Corker's espoused goals - federal debt reduction and more rational federal spending - can't occur if senators and congressmen are effectively on the payrolls of lobbyists and corporations that thrive on greedy legislative returns for their campaign contributions in the form of federal spending, tax breaks or the freedom to gouge consumers. That symbiotic paradigm won't change unless Congress approves campaign reform and lobbying restrictions - MoveOn.org's goals - that would radically alter the current model of campaign fund-raising, election spending and the close nexus of both with lobbyists.

Indeed, the cliché that money is the milk of politics is readily apparent to anyone who bothers to look at the correlation between big campaign contributors, deep-pocket lobbyists' spending and the legislation that Congress ultimately passes or defeats. The old rule about following the money almost unerringly predicts precisely how members of both chambers of Congress will vote on any given issue.

That relationship used to be opaque. Nowadays, readers need only search the database of civic-minded outfits like the Center for Responsive Politics, whose website at OpenSecrets.org offers a wealth of information on the sources of money for every member of Congress. For example, click on http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cycle=Career&cid=N00027441&type=I to view Corker's campaign receipts, donors and spending since 1989. Then go from there to explore the world of a Congress indentured to big industries, corporations and rich vested interest groups. Another site ( http://www.publicampaign.org/node/41456) offers direct comparisons of votes following campaign money on the issue of controlling costs on soaring prescription drug prices.

The OpenSecrets.org site offers links and breakdowns of the source of Corker's $22,858,408 in campaign receipts since 1989 - most of which were for his Senate race in 2008. The vital information the site discloses about the industries, PACS, donors and geography of his campaign funding make it abundantly clear, as most observers would suspect, that campaigns are not built on small donations from rank-and-file supporters who send him $5 or $50. Rather, they rely chiefly on the deep-pocket giving of industries, business PACs and individuals that have a vested interest in having a friend in the Senate to vote for legislation they want, or against bills they oppose.

The Fair Elections Now Act would attempt to change that model by rewarding candidates who base their campaigns on donations by small donors. The bill sets out a credible candidate petition threshold minimums and a public funding formula for candidates that is tied proportionally to the varying populations of states and political districts.

MoveOn.org proposes two other worthy goals for candidates willing to sign their pledge for reform. One calls for support of legislation to close the revolving door that gives former members of Congress jobs in the industries they once helped regulate, and vice versa. The other seeks legislation to reverse or overturn the recent, radical Supreme Court ruling which gave corporations the same First Amendment rights as actual citizens to spend as much as they want to influence the outcome of an election. The flow of corporate money into the November election is already proving how that giveaway of citizen control over campaigns will corrupt our republic if not fixed.

That Sen. Corker would not sign MoveOn.org's sensible pledge to rein in the corrupting rule of rich campaign donors, lobbyists and corporate campaign spending speaks volumes about the typical politician's acceptance of the out-of-control status quo. It certainly undermines the senator's presumed seriousness about controlling federal spending.