With the Republicans in the House getting ready to elect a new majority leader -- who will hopefully rein in the outrageous spending spree that's taken place during the past five years -- it's fitting to remember once again that the only way to curb the influence of money in politics is to reduce the amount of money controlled by politicians. Unfortunately, both parties these days seem more interested in redistributing money to their supporters than in serving the voters.
Most local governments don't spend lavishly on gifts, but many are investing in taxpayer-funded lobbying. The number of companies hired to pursue earmarks has doubled since 2000, many of them retained by universities or cities to pursue federal dollars. Now the feeding frenzy has escalated to the point that some lobbyists, including many who used to work on Capitol Hill, are approaching local officials and suggesting they have the juice to get them an earmark, providing the lobbyist gets paid a hefty fee.
In 2004, Culpeper County, Va. (population 40,192), was hoping to build a local sports complex when the local newspaper reported it was "approached by a representative of Alcalde and Fay, a Northern Virginia lobbying group, who expressed optimism that funds for the $3.5 million sports complex could be tied to one or more federal appropriation bills." The lobbying group recommended a $5,000-a-month retainer, for a total of $90,000 over an 18-month contract. As Ron Utt, a former federal budget official now at the Heritage Foundation, points out. "Alcalde & Fay are, for all intents and purposes, selling federal taxpayer money for just 2.6 cents on the dollar. What local government wouldn't consider such an offer from a lobbyist?"
Politicians have long used taxpayer money to buy votes from those who pay less taxes, but now it's becoming an industry! What's more, politicians appear to be benefitting themselves by serving as lobbyists after retirement!
Some universities end up employing or being run by the very people who bring them this largesse. Last month Democratic former senator Dennis DeConcini was given a prestigious appointment as a regent of the University of Arizona. Mr. DeConcini retired from the Senate in 1995 after being tarred as one of the "Keating Five," a group of senators who improperly intervened with federal regulators on behalf of corrupt savings-and-loan owner Charles Keating. Mr. DeConcini then became--no surprise--a Washington lobbyist. He now admits he needs to be brought up to speed on education issues. But he had a ready explanation for his appointment: "I used to be very close to the universities. I was able to secure them millions of dollars when I was in the Senate."
The office of Gov. Janet Napolitano, who appointed Mr. DeConcini as a regent, agrees with his assessment. Spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer told the Arizona State University newspaper that the former senator "was selected for his experience on Capitol Hill, where he helped Arizona universities secure federal funding for research."
Greg Patterson, a Republican former Arizona state legislator, calls the DeConcini appointment outrageous: "Imagine if a former senator was appointed to the board of Boeing and said 'Golly, I don't know much about planes, but when I was in the Senate, I got Boeing a ton of contracts and now I've got this really cool job.' "
The only way to reduce this corruption is to reduce the power and funding of government. Rather than redistributing money from one person to another, the government needs to be restricted to providing core services.
Certain trends have been favoring the left for the past several decades. In the early 1960s, transfer payments (entitlements and welfare) constituted less than a third of the federal government's budget. Now they constitute almost 60 percent of the budget, or about $1.4 trillion per year. Measured according to this, the US government's main function now is redistribution: taking money from one segment of the population and giving it to another segment. In a few decades, transfer payments are expected to make up more than 75 percent of federal government spending.
Currently the federal government consumes about 20 percent of the GDP, which is another way of saying that about 20 percent of Americans' income, on average, is paid in taxes to the federal government. According to the Government Accountability Office, that is on course to rise to 30 percent by 2040. Most of that 30 percent would be redistributed as payments to other Americans, rather than spent on standard government services like law enforcement, transportation, defense, national parks, orspace exploration.
We're decending into European-style socialism, slowly but surely, and if we don't act to reverse our collapse then their fate certainly awaits us.