Thoughts about...Money, Politics & Speech

Reason Logo Ethics Lies

Lies of the Ethics Industry
How the champions of "good government"
suppress speech and sow cynicism

| April 30, 2010

Our 21st century politics might be regarded as an ethical golden age—at least in contrast to the corruption of the 19th century, when senators were on railroad payrolls and urban machines pilfered public treasuries. Yet according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, only 22 percent of citizens now trust government  "almost always or most of the time."

Ironically, the trust deficit is partly a result of the very transparency rules adopted to encourage confidence in government. Enacted after some idiots in Richard Nixon's White House broke into the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee—apparently guided by the aphorism "nothing's too cheap to steal"—transparency laws were supposed to shine light on the influence of cash. Which they did. But they also left an even bigger impression that money is the root of all public policy evil.

Four groups now work to convince us we have the worst government money can buy: (1) an ethics industry spawned in Washington by Watergate, which features nonprofits lobbying for regulation of speech they don't like; (2) journalists who collude with ethics purveyors, writing cheap-and-easy stories fitting a corruption narrative they create; (3) politicians, especially Democratic Progressive Era throwbacks, who think evil-doing can be stopped with new and better rules and who pander to the ethics industry, the media, and (ironically) to citizens convinced that Democrats are just as sleazy as Republicans; and (4) citizens, frustrated by the budget-busting consequences of the free lunches we accept from politicians.

The usual suspects will be familiar to viewers of TV news features devoted to topics like “keeping them honest” and “it’s your money.” A self-described citizens’ lobby, Common Cause, was founded in 1970. It spawned a series of other “Goo-Goo” (good government) nonprofits, including Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen in 1971; the Center for Responsive Politics in 1982, which massages finance records from candidate and PAC reports and feeds the information to friendly journalists who repeat “follow the money” as a mantra; and the Center for Public Integrity, created in 1989 by former 60 Minutes producer Charles Lewis, who launched investigative studies that focused on money as a one-size-fits-all explanation for bad politicians and policy.

The Goo-Goos reflect the Progressive Era faith that non-partisan elites, armed with ever-expanding rules and great expertise, can serve stupid people better than greedy elected officials can. And to make matters worse, every one of their failures to legislate political morality has only encouraged ethics-mongers to propose new-and-better “reforms.” Common Cause and its sister organizations want to limit political speech that they disapprove of—i.e., speech by evil corporations. And these crusading groups all share a common cause: Goo-Goo self-perpetuation. After all, those press release writers have mouths to feed, too.

Anyone in a college journalism program during the past several decades has been advised to “follow the money” as a key to political behavior. With that limited wisdom, a young reporter quickly learns she can make the front page with a story suggesting a money-policy nexus.

Assisting journalists in these exposés of political cash are their friends in the ethics industry, ready to supply “studies” and “reports,” which often mis-aggregate donations and expenditures (figures lie just like politicians do, and liars frequently employ figures). The Goo-Goos are always prepared with sky-is-falling quotes about the dire consequences of money impinging on democracy.

What never seems to occur to journalists—especially those in the non-real world of editorial boards—is that their own publishers spend unlimited cash to speak, cash they’ve accepted from their advertisers, who usually happen to be big bad corporations.

With progressivism still their dominant theology, Democrats constantly campaign for more “reform” of money in politics, occasionally joined by “maverick” Republicans like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). But just like religious Republicans who get caught in the wrong beds or bathrooms, Democrats pay the hypocrisy price when they’re discovered with cash in their freezers or embarrassing gifts from criminals.

The Democratic-progressive dream is public financing of elections, an incumbent protection racket that would allow them to wage permanent campaigns with taxpayer-funded congressional staffs—all while appearing to equalize spending for electoral opponents, courtesy of your tax dollars.

Finally, the public’s disappointment with government can be traced to the most likely suspects of all: the public itself. Dangerously armed with a willingness to suspend belief in the law of supply and demand, the people are always eager for a free lunch of entitlement spending, while for dessert they blast politicians for running up giant deficits.

The thus-embattled citizen then turns on the TV and reacts with fury to stories by cable-babblers, pandering to their audience of political spectators with pretensions of keeping those sleazy pols honest.

Lost in this televised Kabuki theater is any serious attempt to address the really big public policy problems facing the country, including massive entitlement payouts for the elderly, the bipartisan jobs program known as national defense, and gigantic interest payments on the national debt. Who actually believes that removing money from politics will help fix any of that?

It all recalls the old cartoon strip character, Pogo, who declared: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

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The Party of God, The Party of
[campaign finance] "Reform" and Hypocrisy

by Terry Michael
September 9, 2007

The Party of God, we are shocked to learn, seems to have a libido. And, equally amazing, the Party of Reform apparently covets a little mammon on occasion.

When will self-righteous Republicans and holier-than-thou Democrats learn that hypocrisy, not sex and greed, is the original sin for which voters, and certainly cynical journalists, hold them accountable?

The anti-gay, pro-"family values" party, held captive by its Southern-based, evangelical wing, is repeatedly embarrassed when its David Vitters and Larry Craigs exhibit interest in 'hos and 'mos (translation for Beltway types: "whores" and "homosexuals.")

Likewise, the party of campaign finance "reform," intellectually imprisoned by the Washington ethics industry and its handmaidens in the ivory towers of liberal editorial pages, is caught with its Progressive Era pants down when a big pile of hot Jacksons ends up in William Jefferson's freezer, or when a financial supporter facing a felony indictment ends up on Hillary Clinton's donor list.

There is a solution to the demagogic payback resulting from these self-inflicted shots in the foot.

Republicans might want to review the Democrats' mid-20th Century divorce from their morally bankrupt, also Southern-based, segregationist wing, with which the party's northern liberal branch made a deal with the devil for decades, and which proved a constant embarrassment to its civil libertarian sensibilities.

GOP alignment with the sexual orientation bigots continues to drive millions of gay voters, many of whom share Republican economic values, into the arms of Democratic candidates, just as the party of Lincoln had a lock on poor black voters, who probably would have deserted the GOP sooner had Democrats not cozied up to the Theodore Bilbos and Ross Barnetts of the political underworld.

And Democrats, every time they are tempted to take a cheap shot at big-spending "special interests," would do well to consider that average voters have nothing against being rich and believe both parties succumb equally to the lure of campaign cash.

Democratic efforts to muzzle money with authoritarian "reform" measures carries with it the high price of infringement on First Amendment free speech values, which millions of us share with our party's founder.

Those of us who consider ourselves Jeffersonian Democrats want to gag every time we witness reactionary left-liberal rules junkies who try to legislate morality by suppressing monied speech they find inappropriate to their vision of the public good.

So beware you Republican and Democratic candidates, whenever the phrases "family values" or "special interests" find their way into your talking points. Prepare to cover your behinds, because those words will come back to bite you in the bottom when one of your own is found to value an interest in sex and greed.

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by Terry Michael, February 24, 2007

Dog Ate Gov. Vilsack's Homework

"It was money, and only money," Gov. Tom Vilsack assured me in the sound-bite delivered to my Jeep by NPR as I was driving home from the office Friday.

That's all I heard from his exit press conference, as I steered my way through traffic on the Southeast Expressway past the U.S. Capitol, leaving me to wonder whether he also explained how Spot ate the killer speech he planned for the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Des Moines. Or if racking up all those frequent flyer milers was putting a terrible stress on the time he gets to spend with Christie, and sons Jess and Doug.

Give me a break! But, of course, NPR didn't.

Vilsack's "I'm outa' here" was immediately followed by the requisite nonsense "reporting"......

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Abramoff: latest enabler of ethics addicts
and their assault on political free speech

by Terry Michael, Friday, January 13, 2006

Add another entry to Jack Abramoff’s litany of sin: enabler of the Beltway Ethics Industry’s cracked-out addiction to criminalizing political speech.

Stand clear of your mail slots, liberals, progressives and process conservatives. Thanks to Mr. Abramoff, you’re about to get a pile from the folks at Common Cause, Public Citizen, and the other self-appointed guardians of proper public discourse. Your $25 gift will be URGENTLY! NEEDED (and probably underlined, with bold-face italics) to finance the latest legislative scheme to remove – once and for all! - the corrupting influence of money from politics. read the complete text, choose either:  
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Those Poor Victimized Native Americans
By Terry Michael, Monday, January 9, 2006

from the Washington Post, Jan. 7, 2006, Page 1:  "A Tribe Takes Grim Satisfaction in Abramoff's Fall"....
"It was thievery, tribal members said, that echoes the historic losses of Native Americans to European settlers....'Abramoff and his partner are the contemporary faces of the exploitation of native peoples,' said David Sickey, a member of the tribal council. 'In the 17th and 18th century, native people were exploited for their land. In 2005, they're being exploited for their wealth.'"

Thievery? Exploitation?

How about plain old unethical greed on the part of these modern day noble savages?

This takes identity politics victimology to soaring heights. The members of this tribe were just as slimy as Mr. Abramoff, attempting to purchase the public policy he was trying to peddle.

Both Abramoff and his "clients" were trying to get rich quick at the expense of taxpayers. If he ought to go to jail -- which he obviously should -- are the tribal elders victims, or fully culpable parties to a corrupt bargin? read the complete text, choose either:  
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