Epiphanyblog

All about ideas…

It’s about “Pay to Play”

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We all know that Congress no longer really reflects the views and desires and policy needs of the average American voter. We all know special interests buy legislation through lobbying donations, and a variety of special interest and political PACs.

Newt Gingrich

Democrats and Republicans alike sup at the “pay to play” table that Newt Gingrich introduced into the House.

But for the first time, the history of this change has been documented in a new report (pdf) by Thomas Ferguson, INET Conference Bretton Woods.

As means to this end, leaders staged more and more votes not to move legislation, but to score points with some segment of the public or signal important outside constituencies. For the same reason, they sometimes made exemplary efforts to hold up bills by prolonging debate or, in the Senate, putting presidential nominations on hold. Meanwhile, they set formal or informal quotas for congressmen and women – here even conservative Republicans stoutly defended equal rights – for member contributions to the national congressional committees. The national fundraising committees, in turn, poured resources into elections to secure and hold majority control.17 Contests for relatively rare “open seats” that had no incumbent running or races in which incumbents looked unsafe received particularly heavy attention, since those were most likely to sway the balance of forces inside each chamber.

Allusions to Congressional “Leviathans” had been flying around for some years;
here, at last, the real thing was taking shape: centralized parties, presided over by leaders with far more power than in recent decades, running the equivalent of hog calls for resources, trying to secure the widest possible audiences for their slogans and projecting their claims through a mass media that was more than happy to play along with right thinking spokespersons of both parties.18 The members, in turn, scrambled to raise enough money to meet the quotas the leaders set as the price of securing influence in the House or the Senate.

I’m not sure how this “pay to play” scenario can be changed, given the SCOTUS ruling on Citizens United and its current, apparent leanings against Arizona’s public financing law, but it’s clear the American public must demand a change in campaign finances that reflect their interests, not just those of large donors.

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Written by Valerie Curl

April 14, 2011 at 9:55 AM

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