article: 03 Feb 06
Although this post deals with the current scandal in Congress, the first one I remember involved Billy Sol Estes and a bunch of Democrats. Two Speakers of the House, Democrat Jim Wright and Republican Newt Gingrich, proved that violation of ethics rules is a bipartisan sport.
Will Rogers said, "We have the best Congress that money can buy." Unfortunately the dollar just doesn't go as far as it used to. Jack Abramoff has thrown record numbers of dollars at Congress (and that's just the tip of the K Street iceberg), but could you even start to argue that our current Congress is any better than any previous Congress?
In reaction to the Abramoff scandal we hear calls for new ethics guidelines and campaign finance reforms. Sounds good, but do you really expect it to accomplish anything?
Abramoff's bribes haven't been the only things breaking records lately; so has spending on political campaigns. For the average Representative to afford to run for re-election he/she has to begin fundraising before even being sworn in for the current term. Then the Honorable faces the dilemma of either taking time away from representing the people (i.e., the job) to raise money, or accepting large (if questionable) donations. I point this out not to excuse the members of Congress, but to explain a large part of the problem.
Since Congress has always had it in their power to fix this problem, they have no excuse. What, you may ask, can Congress do? How can they fix this? A closer look at the problem should make the answer obvious. Of the massive amounts of money required for an election campaign 90% or more will probably go to pay for television and radio advertising.
A number of people have advocated public financing of campaigns. This sounds like a good thing until you realize that it means taking your tax dollars and giving them to the owners of television and radio stations. And what do we the people get for our money? We pay for time on the stations that are licensed to use the public airwaves to operate in the public interest.
Is it really a stretch to argue that the public interest includes reducing corruption in politics? Why should television and radio station owners profit from using our resource, the public airwaves, to corrupt our political system?
I suggest we tax all radio and television income (that's income, not profit) from political advertising at 110%. This would include cable, too. After all, cable companies also operate under license. The licenses already require that the stations provide time for public service; a simple clarification of that clause will suffice to make sure we get adequate and fair exposure to all candidates.
Will this completely clean up Congress? Of course not. Power corrupts and Congress has as much power as any 535 people in history. The Abramoff scandal pointed out the need for reforms to ethics guidelines regarding travel and other gifts. But when you look at what percent of the money Abramoff spent on "lobbying" was in the form of campaign contributions, is there any question what Congress needs to do?