Friday, October 25, 2013

Random Acts of Journalism: The Darkside of D.C. Politics

In the CNBC interview above author and Peter Schweizer discusses his new book “Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pockets.” Schweizer's book is drawing some criticism from the political status quo, here’s an excerpt from a National Journal article:
A new book that argues politicians in Washington manufacture crises and manipulate vote scheduling and other legislative activity as part of a Mafia-like “protection racket” to extort campaign donations. But the new book “Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pockets,” is predictably not drawing rave reviews from House Speaker John Boehner, whose office is lashing out at author Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution and an editor-at-large at Breitbart.

Schweizer advances a novel argument: Rather than special-interest money in Washington being funneled to politicians in order to gain access and favor, politicians run government in ways designed to extract special-interest money from various constituencies. He also says that the notion that Washington dysfunction is a product of partisanship and ideological entrenchment can be looked at in a different light: that gridlock, legislative threats, and fear of uncertainty help prime the donation pump.

“It’s one of the oldest and most effective forms of extortion: the protection racket,” he writes in one chapter. “Pay me money and I will promise not to make your life miserable. Fail to pay and bad things will happen to you.”

Schweizer writes that that has been the “bread and butter” of organized crime for centuries, but that “the Permanent Political Class in Washington plays the protection racket, too. Failure to pay will not get you killed—but it could kill your business.”

To make his case, Schweizer describes various maneuvers in which he argues politicians engage in a form of legal extortion to extract campaign contributions from business or other special interests. His book throws out colorful terms for these maneuvers, such as “toll-booth” requirements, “milker bills,” “double-milker bill,” and “juicer bills.” In one case, Schweizer points to what he calls the “tollbooth” maneuver. In the interview, he said he first head of that phrase from a member of the “business community,” who used it to describe contributions he had to pay before getting floor action on a tax-extender. Schweizer said that led him to explore further. Schweizer depicts Boehner as the master of the tollbooth, and focuses in part on the events surrounding a 2011 vote on the Wireless Tax Fairness Act, a bill with widespread support that sailed through committee in July of that year on a voice vote. Yet, Schweizer notes that the scheduling of a floor vote on the bill lingered until the fall.

Boehner eventually announced a vote would be held on Nov. 1. Schweizer notes that the day before the vote, 37 checks from wireless-industry executives totaling nearly $40,000 rolled in to his campaign, including 28 from executives at AT&T. The day of the vote, he writes, employees at Verizon, another company with a lot at stake in the bill, sent 28 checks to members of Congress.

“Checks don’t just magically appear, and they don’t arrive by chance,” he writes, adding, “When corporate executives make donations on the same day at the same time, especially when a large group of them do... it is likely there has been an organized solicitation.”

The book also identifies other bills for which Schweizer says votes appear to be delayed, only to see eventual floor action accompanied in by a flurry of contributions by individuals or businesses with interests in the legislation.

This segment from 60 Minutes barely skims the surface of the corruption that is Washington, D.C. But it is a start, and we need more of this.

Few politicians leave office poorer than when they enter, and most leave as multi-millionaires. The only way to clean-up the corruption in Washington is take taxpayer dollars out of the hands of politicians and leave it in the hands of the people who earned it in the first place.

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