Skin in the Game

New Issue of Democracy: Money in Politics and Lots More

In the new issue of Democracy, fresh ideas for stemming the influence of big money.

You people know that I edit a quarterly journal, Democracy, in addition to spooning out these morsels for your Beastly delectation, and it's with that in mind that I announce the launch of the new Winter 2013 issue, huzzah!

You will find a big package on money and politics that I hope gets some attention. The thrust of the symposium is as follows.

We have in Washington this tireless and very dedicated group of people working on government reform, trying to stem the influence of corporate millions in our political culture, both in terms of campaign cash and lobbying expenditures (the latter more insidious, I should think). They're doing their best, but they're fighting a dinosaur with a feather.

Meanwhile, you have all these interest groups around Washington, some advancing liberal causes of many varieties, some advancing nonpolitical causes, like eradicating a certain disease, let's say. All of these groups, as of now, do not donate to government reform. And why should they? It's not "their issue."

And yet it is! Whether your issue is civil rights or clean air or children's health or curing emphysema, your cause is being harmed by the influence of corporate money in politics. And so the anchor piece of the symposium, by Nick Penniman and Ian Simmons, says to these groups, and to the wealthy benefactors who finance these groups: You should give a percentage of your money to government reform efforts. They write:

A mere $45 million is invested annually in money-in-politics reform, much of which is spent just keeping track of who is paying how much to whom in Washington and the state capitals. The total staff size of the reform community is about that of a midsize law firm, around 280 people. They are trying to take on an influence industry that numbers more than 10,000 registered federal lobbyists, plus another 10,000 ultrawealthy donors, and at least another 90,000 employees of the influence industry who don’t have to register as lobbyists but spend their working hours trying to bend public policy and public opinion in the direction of their clients’ economic interests.

No wonder the good guys usually lose. From there they go on to spell out their proposal.

Pay attention, interest group people! You are losing your fight because it's almost impossible to win on Capitol Hill today if you are not a bank or the real-estate industry or a defense contractor or so on. You have to put skin in the game of the big-money fight. Read this issue.