Washington, D.C. loves pork. Every Federal budget contains billions of dollars of pork, but they call them “earmarks.” Pork is legislation that benefits a particular industry, corporation, or special-interest group, that our taxes end up paying for. It’s no coincidence that these industries or special-interest groups contribute large amounts of money to the political campaigns of Senators and Congressmen who push these earmarks through Congress.
The organization, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) publishes an annual “Congressional Pig Book.” For the fiscal year 2019, Congress “earmarks” amounted to $15.3 billion.
In all the talk about campaign-finance reform, industries or special-interest groups who benefit from these earmarks are always depicted as the villains. These are the bad guys, the “evil” organizations who allegedly corrupt our poor, innocent Senators and Congressmen. Well, folks, it’s the other way around. Most of the time, it’s the Senators and Congressmen who are the villains, and the corporations or special-interest groups who are corrupted.
Why would these corporations or special-interest groups contribute money to legislators’ political campaigns? Why does any organization give a politician money? No one gives money away for nothing. Obviously, these organizations want to buy something they value.
But the act of buying something requires that the other party has something to sell that the buyer wants. There can be no buyers without sellers. If the seller was not tempting you with his wares, you would not give him a cent of your money.
So what does Congress sell that is so tempting to corporations or special-interests groups? It sells potential profits, protection, unearned subsidies, or power over their competitors. Consider what the government really does. It forcibly takes money from corporations through corporate taxes. These taxes dictate what a corporation will be “allowed” to keep out of their profits.
Favorable tax policies can help an organization. Bad tax policies can punish them. Also, Federal regulations can help or strangle any industry, corporation, or special-interest group. Witness the tobacco industry, drug companies, and gun manufacturers. The power to tax and regulate is the power to reward or destroy. It, therefore, makes sense for any corporation or special-interest group to be on the “good side” of influential Senators or Congressmen
Corporations or special-interest groups contribute to politicians’ campaign funds for many reasons — profit, direct subsidies, self-preservation, or the ability to hurt their competitors. For example, the FDA can make or break a drug company based on whether or not they approve a company’s new drug application. A drug company’s entire future can depend on these decisions by FDA bureaucrats.
Can we blame a drug company from trying to “influence” this decision by contributing to the political campaigns of Congressional legislators who oversee the FDA? No.
The real problem is that the FDA exists in the first place. The real problem is that there is a government agency that can force a drug company to spend 10 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to get a new drug “approved.” The real problem is that a Federal agency can literally regulate a company to death.
The government agency is the villain here. It’s the agency that has no right to dictate how a company does business, what it produces, who it hires, or what profits it can make. The government agency violates the property rights and controls the future of every corporation they regulate.
Therefore, many corporations or special-interest groups who seek to “influence” a State or Federal legislator to reduce or eliminate a tax or regulation, are acting in pure self-defense. They are simply trying to defend themselves from taxes or regulations that could put them out of business.
Then there are the corporations and special-interest groups who lobby Congress (and State legislatures) not out of self-defense, but for their own selfish ends. They ride the back of the government tiger. They try to beat their competitors, not by superior effort and performance in the free market, but by influencing government regulators to strangle the competition.
For example, utility companies have lobbied city, State, and Federal legislators to give them a monopoly in their area. These government-created monopolies keep out competition, driving consumer prices higher. For many years, AT&T had a near-monopoly on long-distance phone service. Government regulations kept Sprint, MCI, and other competitors from competing effectively with AT&T. Once Congress deregulated the telecommunications industry, long-distance phone rates eventually dropped from 1.50 cents a minute to five cents a minute today.
Corporations and special-interest groups also lobby Congress for direct subsidies, such as farm price supports, higher teacher-salaries, and corporate bailouts such as bank bailouts during the last recession. Of course, middle-class taxpayers pay for this corporate welfare.
The government sells favors or punishments through taxes and regulations. It’s like a legalized extortion racquet. That’s why corporations and special-interest groups “contribute” to, and try to “influence” or “corrupt” our politicians. As long as legislators have the power to help or punish any corporation or special-interest group, we will have swarms of locust-lobbyists descending on Washington and our state capitols to “influence” legislators.
No matter what campaign finance “reforms” we enact, the structural problem remains the same, and so does human nature. Such “reforms” will not end corruption. It will only drive it underground, as it does in Russia, China, Venezuela, and dozens of other corrupt governments around the world where government officials are for sale to the highest bidder.
In contrast, why don’t we see religious sects lobbying Congress for subsidies or laws that restrict other religions? Why don’t Catholics lobby Congress to outlaw Protestants or remove their tax-free status? It is because the 1st Amendment to the Constitution prohibits Congress from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion, or the free exercise thereof” The First Amendment erected a high wall between Church and State. Congress is constitutionally forbidden from making any law that helps or hurts any religion. As a result, religious sects don’t lobby Congress for special subsidies or regulations. It would be a waste of time because Congress is legally forbidden from enacting such laws.
The same rule should apply to the economy. There should be a constitutional wall between the Economy and the State. Politicians should be constitutionally forbidden from making any law that hurts or profits a corporation, industry, or special-interest group. The only way to end political corruption is to prevent politicians from having anything to sell in the first place. If politicians have nothing to sell, corporations and special-interest groups won’t try to “influence” them.
If politicians had no power to enact heavy taxes or regulations that hurt or helped a corporation or special-interest group, that corporation or group’s “contributions” would be useless. If we had what existed in this country in the early nineteenth century, when there were no income or corporate taxes, when all the regulatory agencies we have today didn’t exist, the problem of “influence” would disappear.
Consider this. If there were no FDA or drug-testing regulations, why would a drug company take the time and effort to “contribute” to a Senator’s campaign re-election? What would it gain? If there were no farm subsidies allowed, why would big agricultural conglomerates lobby Congress for farm price-support subsidies? If such programs were constitutionally forbidden, lobbying efforts would be a complete waste of time.
If we had a separation of the Economy and State, like the separation of Church and State, soon every corporation or special-interest group would get the picture — the government has nothing to sell anymore. The government would be out of the bribe and threaten businesses. Don’t bother coming to Washington. You’re on your own, brother. This would be real campaign-finance reform. By taking away the biscuits, the dogs would back off and go home.