Monday, June 07, 2010

Say, what if congresscritters did have to split their bribe takings with the folks back home?


Max and Chuck G: Might they and their congressional colleagues be "encouraged" (to put it tactfully) to "give something back" to the folks back home?

by Ken

This morning Howie had a post called "Maybe Louisiana Voters Think That When Their Senators Get Bribes It Somehow Accrues To The Whole State." It may just be the way my mind works, but the idea I first took in from this head was: "Maybe Senators Think That When They Get Bribes It Somehow Accrues To Their Voters." And I was utterly taken by the notion that congresscritters may forget that their constituents don't share in any of the bribe money they collect.

Now I'm wondering, would the system be any better if the bribe money did have to be shared with their constituents?

First let's back up to my initial misapprehension: This seemed to me an almost believable manifestation of Inside the Beltway-ism, where reality is only what happens Inside the Beltway, or perhaps even more locally what happens inside a Beltway Insider's head. As opposed to what happens, for example, in the Gulf of Mexico, which most of them probably couldn't find on a map. Again, I can almost believe in legislators whose sense of self-importance becomes so outsized that they really aren't aware of any separation between their interests (financial interests, just to pick a random example) and their constituents'.

One thing that has fascinated me as Howie has become more directly involved with both congressional candidates and actual live sitting congressmembers, and of course congressional candidates who became congressmembers, is the disconnect from reality that sets in as soon as they become Certifiably Important. Sometimes, for a previously longshot primary contender, it may be after the previously hopeless underdog becomes the official candidate. Almost without exception there's a transformation, of varying degrees of inclusivity, when a onetime insurgent is certified The Winner, the "in," in the general election.

As I hear it second-hand, the differences turn up quickly in relations with staff members, and it isn't always immediately clear how much of this is traceable to the candidate-turned-electee. But suddenly the staffer who the week before was begging for time and attention doesn't have time for you. The online chat he would have run over his grandma for a month before? Now we have to check his schedule, it's so tight, and you know that that schedule check is never going to be completed, which no doubt explains why they never get back to you.

Especially once the Washington staff is assembled, you often find you're dealing with literally different people. Often with the "assistance" of their party's congressional machinery (which often comes, curiously, from the party's congressional campaign people, underscoring the frequent observation that today's congressmembers are in permanent campaign mode), formerly insurgent candidates lustfully mainstream themselves, and that often includes hiring staff members, indeed often the senior-most staff members, who've done it before, and so are familiar with the Way Congress (or Washington) Works, aka Inside the Beltway-ism. And the new gatekeeper understands that he/she is a gatekeeper only in the sense of being mostly a gate-blocker.

Remember, we're talking here about a not-even or barely even first-term congressmember. At this stage of relative Beltway naïveté, I can almost believe in this state of mind, where the member begins to blur his/her own interests with those of his/her constituents. Still, these days it takes a really special person, or else a really oblivious one, to retain that degree of naïveté even as far as the day of his/her swearing in. Now imagine that same member down the road a ways, having been through three or four election cycles and begun to acquire a bit of seniority, some better committee assignments, maybe a subcommittee chairmanship. And a lot more interest from the jackals of K Street.

Imagine then a U.S. senator from a typical state -- by which I mean not a state that has more senators than House members, or even a state with equal numbers. Now we're talking about the kind of pol who's really had to sweat his/her way up the political ladder to land one of those seats in the 100 Club. I still love the idea of a Max Baucus or Chuck Grassley or Blanche Lincoln or David Vitter thinking that his/her interests are indistinguishable from those of his/her voters. I can even buy it where we're talking just about money that is legitimately intended for campaign spending, because I can believe that such people really believe they are providing their voters with the privilege of being represented by theirs truly.

But that accounts for a terribly small portion of the loot they extract from the money-givers. Now I'm prepared to believe that people like Max Baucus and Chuck G (not to be confused with Chuck S, though for our immediate purposes there's no signficant difference except that we've been talking about Chuck G's particular appeal to bribers as either chairman or ranking minority member of the SFC) and Blanche and the Diaperman don't carry around in their hands a to-the-dollar accounting of who's given them how much money. I'm not saying for sure they don't, just that I'm prepared to believe they don't. Nevertheless, I think they have at all times a powerful and powerfully accurate ongoing sense of their answer to the old Kojak question, "Who loves ya, baby?"

So what would happen if a system whereby all that cash donated by all those good-government benefactors had to be divvied up with the folks back home? Think just of the loot the insurance industry poured into the health care battle. This would do more than anything I can think of to align the interests of members with their constituents, although I suppose it would actually work vice versa, aligning constituents' interests with members', but at least we might have "representatives" acting in the interests of their constituents.

And imagine the stimulative effect on the economy. Of course it's already having some stimulative effect, wherever the money-catchers currently spend their hauls. This way, though, at least that portion of the take would be pumped directly into the members' home districts or states.

I admit I don't have all the details worked out. Like the proportions of the split. My first instinct is 50-50. If the people of the member's CD or state are sporting enough to endow Mr./Ms. X with a seat on the K Street "receiving committee," shouldn't they be entitled to a decent share of the loot?

The manner of determining the distribution list would also need to be worked out. I assume that confidentiality of census records would rule out using them to determine who shares in the wealth. All registered voters? All voters who actually participated in the election of Mr./Ms. X? And somebody's bound to suggest that the money should only go to people who voted for Mr./Ms. X, that the other people in his/her CD or state didn't even want him/her there, or at least not enough to trouble themselves to actually vote. Why should they profit?

I suppose the counterargument would be that the K Street briber is greasing Mr./Ms. X on behalf of his/her constituents, though this reasoning breaks down somewhat in the cases of those lions of the Senate Finance Committee, Senators Baucus and Grassley. Churlish as it is to suggest that their K Street hauls are less expressions of affection and support for the good people of Montana and Iowa than quid-pro-greenbacks for the big cheeses of the Senate committee through which most of the money the government spends passes, there are cynical people who would make just that suggestion.

(In some of the above suggested distribution plans there are also issues involving the fabled sanctity of the American ballot box. How would a prospective citizen payee prove that he/she voted, or that he/she voted for the winner? Nevertheless, with any reasonable amount of cash on the line, I'm thinking that the sanctity of the secret ballot might prove negotiable.)

Naturally the question arises as to why sitting House and Senate members would accept this new system of having to part with, for the sake of argument, half their bribe money. Many of the poor dears undoubtedly think they've earned that money. In all too many cases, this can be easily documented. I like to think, though, that they can be helped to understand that bribery isn't just a potential social faux pas (which may not even register a jolt, given the social circles they travel in), but is also unethical and illegal. Sure, the illegality is tough to prove, but what would happen if you indicated to the dears a willingness to try? There's the potential for the lawyers' fees alone to eat up all that money they've so arduously wheedled out of their donors.

There isn't much that Max and Chuck G and Blanche and the Diaperman and their kind can do about the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf, and significantly less still that they're prepared to do. Under my plan at least the beleaguered citizens of the Gulf states would get something out of their representatives in Congress.

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At 12:00 PM, Anonymous mediabob said...

Ken, I like your expansion of Howie's post, but, I didn't see the list of actions we should take next to acquire these riches. Should the local and municipal leaders hang at the Elected One's headquarters in some queue, arranged by need of course, to await the strongbox? They're certainly NOT getting any of the taxes to keep these services going, so why not get some of the spoils to make the community stronger.

I like the thinking going on down at DWT.

At 5:12 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Like I said, Bob, I lot of the details of the plan remain to be worked out. I think your brainstorming has contributed measurably to the concept, which we might call YOUR BRIBE DOLLARS AT WORK.



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