A Plus for Charity

Sin is paying off for some American charities as scared politicians in Washington try to dump their Jack Abramoff campaign contributions. Putting daylight between themselves and this first-class crook will not be easy.

Abramoff no doubt caused digestive problems for a number of members of Congress and their staffs when he decided to turn canary and sing the tunes dictated by federal prosecutors. Corruption in Washington is so pervasive that a number of people forgot a very important lesson: There is no honor among the dishonorable. Faced with a very long prison sentence, the once-cocky Abramoff said, "Who do you want me to rat on?"

Many of these politicians and arrogant little staff members are now having nightmares about orange jumpsuits and bright, shiny handcuffs. Let us all hope fervently that their nightmares come true. Let us all pray that there are still a few honest people in the Justice Department, protected by civil service, who will do their duty and not the bidding of their political boss.

Abramoff was one of the young stars of the "new conservatives" rising through the ranks of the College Republicans. As it turned out, these guys were neither new nor conservative. They loved big government — as much as the liberals — as long as they could control it and direct the patronage. Their morals were as old as sin itself. They got drunk on arrogance. They got greedy. All of their high-blown rhetoric was as nothing compared with a fat bank account, a mansion and memberships at all the fancy watering holes.

The problem is that in Washington, the only god in town is money. The pols need money to run their campaigns. The lobbyists need money to buy their votes. The special interests are more than eager to supply the money in exchange for favors. Why do you think the tax code is about 22,000 pages of small print? They need that verbiage to hide favors written into the legislation in return for the lucre.

Campaign-finance reform will never work. Whatever amount of money a politician needs to win he will find a way to get by hook or by crook. The answer has to be to find ways to limit the amount of money that can be spent. Multimillion-dollar campaigns are an invitation to corruption.

Under the original Constitution, senators were chosen by their respective state legislatures. During one of the reform frenzies, an amendment changed this to make senators run statewide. We should rethink this. In today’s overpopulated America, it is impossible to run a statewide campaign in a large state without spending millions of dollars. Having senators chosen by state legislators who are answerable to the people would take a huge hunk of money out of the equation. It would also help people realize the importance of their state legislators.

Another step should be to require that all campaign contributions come from individuals who are legal residents of the politician’s district. As it is today, once a man gets to Washington, he can raise his next campaign kitty in Washington. This is a huge disconnect between the congressman and the people back home he’s supposed to represent. He doesn’t really need the people back home. He just needs the money, which he gets in Washington, to fool the people back home once every two years.

Media, pollsters and marketing people have taken over our political process. Huge amounts of campaign money flow into the pockets of these people, and consequently, we live in an age of perpetual campaigning. Perhaps we should limit campaigns to three months, ban polling and ban television advertising. Before the three-month period begins, candidates should be forbidden to spend even one dime on their campaigns.

You might have even better ideas. The point is, all of us must think of ways to shrink the influence of money on the American political process. Power is shifting away from the people to the big-money crowd. Unless the trend is reversed, it will inevitably lead to more corruption and rule by an oligarchy that will sit behind the scenes and instruct its bought politicians. Our elections will become meaningless, since the oligarchs will dictate the only choices we have on the ballot.

One of the things that worries me a lot these days is the general absence of outrage. I don’t believe self-government can work unless people get angry about corruption. To shrug it off is to accept it. One must never tolerate evil.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.