Campaign Finance and Lobbyists

Aaron touched on Royce's abject distaste for our current campaign finance process, and it's disastrous affect on US Politics, but I figured I'd let Royce respond to this Foreign Affairs piece on his own. Royce - you're up!


  1. Here's a snippet to whet your appetite Royce:

    "...[foreign governments] see a broad and deepening pattern of corrupt and corruptible members of Congress making self-serving deals with lobbyists working for foreign entities."

  2. Oh my God... I read the title and the abstract and I had to stop... I will come back to this after I take a stiff drink (or twelve) after work...

    If you don't hear from me for a few days, it's because I went catatonic trying to type a response.

  3. First of all - this is not a free article. I bought it for $0.99. So those of you trying to read along... um, sorry? Any ideas Scott?

    Second, this is a huge article and there's a lot to touch on before I go all medieval on their asses. I want to separate out some important points from the premise. The most important is the following quote:

    "A firm lobbying on behalf of foreign clients keeps data on every member of Congress, their staffs, and even some representatives in state legislatures who are considered rising figures. A firm will do a meticulous analysis of the voting records and public statements of various key players, notably the chairs of the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees."

    I want to point out that this is hardcore. If we the people want to overcome the influence of these interest groups, we will have to be equally as hardcore and meticulous about researching our representatives. Also note that this potentially takes a lot of money - the lobbying group working for the former Iraqi Prime Minister received over $600k from his camp alone.

    I will come back to this point

  4. It was free for me as I have a subscription to the magazine; some of their online content is free, some requires a subscription - wasn't sure which bucket this article fell into.

    I'm trying to figure out why, specifically, we don't enforce FARA more stringently. It seems absurd to have act such as this established, and to then not enforce it - why have it in the first place?

    Ultimately, however, I think this all becomes moot (moo, anyone?) if we end up with more transparency in the campaign finance business. If we knew AIPAC gave Representative Pelosi's campaign $150K in 2008, we'd be more interested in noting how she voted on votes that affect AIPAC's interests, and she would be less inclined to let their contribution influence her vote.

  5. I would say that transparency is a big step in the right direction, but I think a big problem (or effect) of the current system, is that it leads to career politicians, who care more about being career politicians than representing their constituents. Gerrymandering, campaign contributions...all seem to have the politicians career in mind first.

  6. It's a moo point, like a cow's point. Aaron I like where you're taking this but let me work into that, because I think we'll reveal some connection here.

    Scott the issue with both FARA and the LDA is that we let the foxes design the chicken coop. Then we're surprised when we, the chickens, get freaking eaten in the middle of the night. But I totally agree that the big and only takeaway is total transparency in campaign financing. There is NO reason - ABSOLUTELY NONE - that every dollar shouldn't be disclosed as to where it came from and when. This kind of stuff has to be publicly available for the public to make the kind of Campaign Finance Wikipedia about all members of Congress (and eventually state and local politicians) that will lead to empowerment of the public with knowledge.

    Of course, you may rightly ask if there is a public appetite for empowerment from a Campaign Finance Wiki? Good question. All I can say is let's hope so, or we're all gonna be screwed. So far I guess the answer is no, because I don't see a lot of clamoring in the public sphere for these reforms. It was not a big issue in the election and, in fact, both candidates backed off their previously impressive stances on reform. McCain said nary a word about his efforts to spearhead campaign finance reform as a Senator; it appears this is because he was taking bushels of dough from lobbyists. Obama didn't go there either, and has since dropped his rhetoric about not allowing any lobbyists into his administration.

    Where does that leave us? I'm incredibly pessimistic about this because, as always, we get what we deserve from our politicians and we the people do not freaking care enough about this issue. Even though it's murdering our democracy.

  7. A very belated follow-up, but this year's "Pig Book" was released today. It's a rather lengthy (66 pages!) document, that's not presented in the best format (e.g. not in table-form), but here are a few quick notes:

    - Total Pork Spend per Capita: $54
    - Total (Directly Attributable) Spend per Capita: $27
    California (Directly Attributable) Spend per Capita: $17

    - Nancy Pelosi's only mentioned once, and this was ironically for a defense-related bill: $5M for the Presidio Trust.

    Overall, I doubt this represents most of the "pork" from 2009, but at least it's a step closer to accountability?

  8. Yes yes and yes

    I'm a huge fan. Getting the information 100% available and transparent is the first and most important step. The next step will be when respectable groups start publicizing it and getting it into the public consciousness.

    Right now discussions of pork spending are the realm of mudslingers trying to campaign against other people. When it becomes championed in an unbias way, and people proactively learn about it, then the stage will be set to change things.

  9. Also I can't remember where we talked about this, but it's not true that 100% of earmarks are pork. At least, if pork is defined as superfluous projects initiated solely to boost the visibility/ popularity of the politician who initiated the pork.

    Some earmarks are legitimate and simply detail the best uses of funding. Likewise, some actual projects that aren't earmarked ARE pork. Let's be cognizant of those two facts, yes?

  10. Agree 100% on the first comment, and I think this group is a step in the right direction (I don't know too much about them, but I get the sense they're a bit right-leaning - this is not necessarily a bad thing).

    Regarding your second comment - what do you think of this group's definition of pork (below, in quotes)? How would you define pork?

    "To qualify for the 'Pig Book,' a project must meet at least one of these standards: It was requested by only one chamber of Congress, was not specifically authorized, was not competitively awarded, was not requested by the president, greatly exceeded the president's budget request or the previous year's funding, was not the subject of congressional hearings or served only a local or special interest."

  11. The problem is that pork has to be subjectively defined in some cases. I read that too, but there are really three groups of spending that you can cut those categories up into:

    1. actual pork: unnecessary, expensive, vanity projects done only to make the requestor more popular (or for more devious reasons)
    2. projects that aren't straight up pork but don't fit at all with the budget that's been passed or are way over the specified budget amount
    3. useful projects that do fit with the budget (and may even make it better), but still hit one of the above categories

    Of the above categories, I would say only "was not competitively awarded" and "served only a local or special interest" are explicitly pork in every case, in my opinion. The rest could fall into categories 2 or 3 depending on the specifics.

  12. Unfortunately, I think that definition is too narrow. However, I understand using this definition because they are better off with a shorter list where everything is pork than a longer list with items that may or may not be pork, which would in turn allow opponents to question the entire list and decrease the organizations overall effectiveness.

    Did I just talk to you like you were an idiot or like I was an idiot?