Proof of Washington Rot
Walter E. Williams, 1997

The nation's response to the scandal-a-day revelations about money funneled into Clinton's reelection and the Democratic party's fund raising is entirely mis-focused. Campaign finance reform measures such as full disclosure and dollar limits do not address the political rot and cancer underlying the scandals.

Let's begin by asking why would a person or corporation fork over thousands of dollars for a politician's political campaign? I doubt whether they do it so that Clinton or a member of Congress will guarantee them the rights to free speech, freedom of religious expression or the right to peaceably assemble. I also doubt they spend the money so Congress and Clinton will give them national defense. They don't make big money contributions for any constitutional guarantee. After all every American gets constitutional guarantees without spending a dime in political contributions.

What has far greater explanatory value for political contributions is the expectation that Congress or the White House will grant the contributor a right or privilege that other Americans don't get. It might be: changes in the tax code that benefit one class of Americans at the expense of another, business or farm subsidies, the favorable location of an airport, or restrictions on imports that compete with a corporation's product. In other words, big campaign contributors want a special privilege - mostly a monopoly privilege - given to them but denied to other Americans.

What do we need? First, we have to recognize that politicians are selling favors. Campaign finance reform measures such as full disclosure, spending limits do not alter the fact that politicians sell favors; it just focuses on the method of payment. If politicians are in the business of selling favors, we can bet the rent money that people will find some way to purchase them. The solution lies in our finding a way to take the White House and Congress out of the privilege granting business. That's a tall order because most Americans think privilege granting is a perfectly legitimate government function, though they may occasionally disagree with who's getting what favor.

If you share my value of equality before the law, we should demand that if Congress enacts a privilege for one American that privilege should be available to all Americans. For example, if Congress makes payments to one American for not raising pigs, that law should apply to all Americans who are not raising pigs. If Congress enables peanut growers to charge higher prices by limiting who can be in the peanut business, it ought to give me a similar right to monopoly income by limiting the number of economists.

Some might argue that certain monopolistic laws are vital to national interests and enrichment of the few at the expense of the many is a secondary effect. No problem. For example, if sugar import restrictions are vital to the national interest, Congress could simply pass a law taxing away the higher wages and profits resulting from the restrictions - call it a national interest tax.

The bottom line is that as long as Americans permit politicians to give special favors and privileges, there are going to be people willing to buy them. We must reform Washington and true reform is a no-brainer. The Framers put their hope and faith in the Constitution because they knew politicians were untrustworthy. That's what you and I must do - demand obedience to both the letter and spirit of the Constitution. But in order to do that, we must know what's in the document. Unfortunately, most Americans don't.

Walter E. Williams

March 17, 1997
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