I heard a fascinating presentation on lobbying yesterday. The most shocking figure was the $4 million that Senator Baucus has taken from the health and insurance sectors in his political career. This graphic from the Sunlight Foundation shows how Senator Baucus is connected to companies and associations with a vested interest in how health reform turns out. Much of it is built around his former staffers who have now become lobbyists. I know, I'm late to this party. Months ago, Ezra Klein asked the question, "Why Does Max Baucus Take this Money?"
It's a good question, and by focusing on the senator's choice, avoids the delicate balance between a citizen's right to support a candidate and the flagrant bribery of elected officials. So I'll ask a different question, as a form of a modest proposal to get the money out of politics. Why should it be legal to make a political contribution to a candidate who is not running for an office that represents you as a constituent? I do not think it should be. Imagine how different this senator's incentives would be if he could only raise money from the residents of Montana as individuals and not from organized interests.
In my last post, I lamented the way Congress made the President's idea for cap-and-trade worse, with the Republicans in Congress being even more on the wrong side of the issue than their Democratic counterparts. Brad DeLong tried to coax me out of my despair. A blogger named Fester correctly pointed out that I am bitching, moaning, and whining about the fact that we have politicians responding to incentives instead of wise philosopher-kings. July 4th seemed like the right occasion to follow up.
To begin, why not bitch about this? Bitching about bad government has a long and productive history, at least when it helps motivate the citizenry to act. It didn't start with the document that we honor today, but it surely picked up speed with these words:
Please read today's New York Times editorial on "Sharing Congress's Research" and urge Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to back Senator Leiberman's (I-CT) resolution to require the Congressional Research Service to post all of its research reports to Congress, except those that are classified.
CRS was created in 1914 within the Library of Congress to provide Congress with "authoritative, confidential, objective, and nonpartisan" analysis of legislative issues. CRS's 450 analysts do everything from writing excellent background reports to providing assistance in drafting legislation. It has experts on congressional procedure and experts on defense procurement. When I worked on Capitol Hill, I valued the help I got on a wide range of diverse legislative topics.
Senator Arlen Specter's decision to switch parties yesterday was a stunning turn of events. Last Friday, a Rasmussen poll showed his primary opponent, former Congressman and staunch conservative, Pat Toomey, with a 51-30% lead. Specter expressed regret that "so many in the Party I have worked for for more than four decades do not want me to be their candidate." He cited 200,000 Pennsylvanians switching to the Democratic Party and his desire to adhere to principle, but the real reason he switched was political survival. President Obama immediately embraced him as a Democrat, and that will assure Mr. Specter's reelection as a Democrat in 2010.
Approval ratings for Congress have been falling the past week, presumably because those who were sampled were not happy about the House's failure earlier this week to pass the Paulson-Frank-Dodd plan.
But I thought the majority didn't want the plan. If that's really the case, shouldn't Congress' approval ratings be rising?