The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Latest in the House ethics doghouse? Our Nancy

If you ever wondered about the reason for that House ethics truce!

Nancy Pelosi, it seems,
filed delinquent reports Friday for three trips she accepted from outside sponsors that were worth $8,580 and occurred as long as seven years ago...

Uh oh.

Now, on the one hand, one must be careful to avoid false equivalence: Pelosi's misdemeanour is hardly in the class of the little arrangements that Randy Cunningham seems to have cooked up with MZM.

It's certainly not illegal per se for Congress members to go on trips paid for third parties - though it may be a breach of rules, and is certainly morally questionable.

And - a key point in practice - when it comes to Congressmen taking foreign jaunts in colourable circumstances, everybody's doing it. There's safety in numbers.

On the other hand, it does rather undermine the high pulpit from which La Pelosi may wish to lecture GOP colleagues on their ethical lapses. (That pulpit is now leaning at something of a undignified drunken angle, with the occupant wondering, perhaps, whether a further shock might tilt it beyond the tipping-point.)

(Pelosi's PACs have been fined by the FEC for violations of electoral law - October 1 2004.)

The underlying point: whenever money enters politics, corruption follows. The distinction between money paid to a politician's own bank account, or to that of his campaign, or PAC, may be relevant in law - laws proposed and promulgated by politicians! - but the effect on the process of government is still corrupting.

Indeed, as I've said before, though it appears that the driver is the extortionate cost of campaigning - essentially, for TV spots - in reality, it works the other way round.

Business needs to get politicians' attention; money talks; it has to be spent on something; by having it routed as contributions, pols can preen themselves on their Simon-purity.

The truly bad thing: the ratio between the amount the contributor pays and the benefit he receives.

You listen to one of the ranters on Air America, say, on the latest piece of corporate welfare to slide down the Congressional slipway, and the numbers are in millions of dollars. Sometimes, billions.

When the conversation turns to the pols who were paid off by the beneficiaries of the giveaway - the numbers are in the thousands.

US politicians aren't merely corrupt. They're also cheap.

There is, of course, zero chance of doing anything about this. There probably never was - because a constitutional amendment to ban paid political TV advertising would have been needed, and when exactly could that have been passed in the last 60 years?

And, though voluntary schemes for public funding of campaigns have been tried in some states, hell will freeze before such a law will pass Congress - even if control by some miracle passes to the Dems.

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