Friday, July 04, 2003

In Slate, Tim Noah reports on an unintended consequence of campaign finance reform efforts (dating back to their beginnings, in the wake of the Nixon administration):

...because each contribution was now smaller, House members had to devote more and more of their time to raising money. Today, fund-raising is a grind for all elected officials in Washington, but it's an especially dreary treadmill for representatives because they must run every two years.

At the same time that campaign reform made being a congressman less enjoyable on a daily basis, it expanded vastly the power of Washington's lobbyists. No longer mere messenger boys for individual wealthy patrons, they became powers unto themselves as House members (and other Washington politicians) subcontracted to them the business of raising money. Increasingly, lobbyists came to represent entire industries rather than individual companies. The most successful lobbyists extended their fund-raising reach beyond those they represented and solicited contributions from the larger community of prominent wealthy people. In addition to rendering themselves more valuable financially, this mingling with the nation's elites raised the lobbyists' social status. By banning previously unrestricted "soft money" contributions to the national parties, last year's McCain-Feingold campaign finance law will further accelerate this trend.

This dependance, reducing the effective power of the reps, was augmented by rotating committee chairmanships instituted under Gingrich, which eliminated long-standing committee chairs as power brokers, leaving only the lobbyists.

The upshot: while Senators maintain their prestige, Representatives are now the social inferiors of the lobbyists on whom they depend. A recent retirement party for the recording industry's lobbyist drew several Senators, pop stars, and Bill Clinton. The closest thing to a celebrity which showed up at the party for some long-serving Reps was Arlen Specter.

And so we drift toward government of the people, by the bought-off, for the rich and corporate interests...


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