*I can't vouch for this site or its data
Relevant quote from the Tech Crunch article:
"One reason why folks Congress could be pushing this through is all of the money that H&R Block and Intuit spent to lobby Senators and Representatives. ProPublica estimates that the tax prep industry has spent $6.6 million to advocate for the IRS filing deal. The Ways and Means chair, Neal, received $16,000 in contributions from the two companies in the last two election cycles, according to the ProPublica report."
Not only do lobbyists get more accessible they get more credibility. The lobbyists are high paid lawyers at respected firms. They have degrees from respected schools. They have worked on the issue at discussion at lemgth. So when citizens are stacked up against these people they seem comparatively crankish.
This provision isn't in the bill because Intuit bribed someone. It's because that 6.6 million bought a lot of sit downs with committee members. Sit downs in which lobbyists told a convincing story of how it would actually be better for everyone of the IRS couldn't do this. Honestly they probably made some process argument for this. Something like it would get challenged in court anyway and be a big waste of money. Or about how you should make it illegal so the Executive Branch won't do it on their own and they'll have to take congressional input. And the lobbyist almost certainly believes whatever line their feeding the politicians.
It's like most broken things in life. No one is evil stuff just breaks.
One other factor is that in “government time” we’re not far removed from the Healthcare.gov fiasco and in the middle of a debate over the technical debt of our easily hacked voting machines. Along with that, Premera and Equifax have suffered attacks.
I imagine there is nobody inside the actual government that is willing to try and “outdo” Turbotax.
This is what "moneyed special interests" refers to.
Only direct spending on lobbying gets reported as lobbying expenditure--not campaign donations. Direct spending on lobbying includes the salaries of registered lobbyists and their support staff, contractors and vendors to create reports and ads and websites, law firms to give advice, etc.
When you see "X company spend $6 million on lobbying," not one cent of that money went to the politician being lobbied, either directly or indirectly. At the federal level, a lobbyist cannot even buy a Subway sandwich for a member of Congress. It's a felony.
Campaign donations are reported separately. Those donations are sometimes done to enable lobbying, as the post higher in this thread correctly states. My point is just to clarify how the numbers get reported.
Competition for this ad budget is so fierce that Congresspeople spend more than half of their working hours reaching out to groups they need bribes from. This skews the laws not always in favor of the groups, but really in favor of whatever motivates the groups to bribe harder. Ex: if simplifying the laws would make everything easier for everyone, we can’t have it. We need the existing complexity to fight and have bidding wars over.
No matter what you want Congress to do, they can’t do it until we fix campaign finance. Doesn’t matter what issues you care about. They’ll only be worked on incidentally if they don’t get in the way of the bribes.
You don’t like it. Congress doesn’t like it. They’re trapped and can’t move against it without getting cut off and booted out. We’re all fucked until we find a catch-22-escape for them.
Yes, they do. All the time.
> They put them in their re-election campaigns because without those bribes they will get voted out of office by The People in favor of an opponent with a larger, bribe-based ad budget.
You kind of fail at corruption if you are getting bribes many times the annual salary of a job per year and are feeding them into nothing more than keeping that job.
Most corrupt politicians do not fail at corruption that badly.
Most of them don't need to do something as explicitly criminal as taking money from a lobbyist and using it for personal expenses.
There are far better ways for members of congress to make money--passing laws that benefit companies they or their family members are invested in and taking lucracitive industry jobs after they leave office for example.
Can you point us to some documented examples?
That is also my understating. That is where the revolving door comes in. Many a career Senator or House member has capped off a career with a lobbying job. It's also good to note that most people who ever sit in the House or Senate were quite wealthy before running. You kind of have to be.
And half the problem is that we need more lobbying, not less.
Donor access is an issue, but I think the larger problem that no one knows how to address with campaign finance laws of any kind is that someone with enough money can simply use that money to hire an army of persuasive people, much as you described.
Moreover, if paid access is required and that payment goes to the politician - or their campaign which is just an extension of the process to keep them in power, I’m not sure how you can see it as anything other than a bribe that is legitimized by a few layers of well educated lawyers or other experts who do some work to make a case that is inevitably aligned with the best interests of the “donor”. That still sure sounds like pay to play politics to me.
It's an important distinction to make, because almost all reporting and outrage about bribery is about quid-pro-quo: newspaper reports about politicians spending time at five star resorts etc. etc.
If we enact laws (or social pressure) to stop this, but the lobbyists remain in the ear of politicians by unpaid means (going to the right schools, having the right friends) then all that outrage has accomplished nothing.
The campaign contributions are just window dressing for the rest of it. It absolutely is bribery.
I kind of wish it were because that would be much easier to do something about. Those things are just the long term effects of paying for access. The frequent close work between lobbyists, politicians and career servants lead to friendships and strong network effects. I'm not defending the system. I'm pointing out why $6.6 million is more than enough to influence a bill. It's because they're not buying a vote. They're buying time to discuss an issue that will probably never get argued any other way to the representative.
In the face of overwhelming pieces of evidence, year after year after year like the article being discussed here, doing so is just pointless sophistry and contrarianism for the sake of it.
For a consequentialist, arguing on the ethics of the acts leading to the consequence is moot (and I think he's quite right that from a consequences point of view, the situation is hard to distinguish from quid pro quo corruption).
Of course, I'd love to see you too reconcile Kant and Machiavel, but you're fighting bad odds here ^^
Part of the reason it's cheap is because most of the time the politicians in question likely tell themselves they're not being bought, because they're taking donations for access etc. or other things that are sufficiently separate from a direct transfer of money that they too are pricing it based on access rather than on the value of a changed vote, as you suggest.
And as I said earlier, the campaign contributions are window dressing for the rest of it and I gave a concrete example. Families like the Clintons have made massive amounts of money cashing out after office, and secured lucrative sinecures for their daughter while in it.
These people and their families are insanely well off as a result of their work in government, and its not because they legislated or governed in the public interest.
The Clintons is a good example of why that would no sense: Their revenue is effectively diversified enough that it would make very little difference. They're trading off their perceived status and recognition - if they'd pushed policy in a different direction, their revenues would just have come from being popular as speakers etc. with different sets of people, it wouldn't have evaporated. It might have been different, and it is possible they'll have thought about that at times, but it is unlikely that they kept thinking "this will increase/lower our income later" because it's way too abstract how it would influence things.
Yes, I'm sure outright vote-buying happens, but I don't think most lobbying is outright vote buying. That doesn't mean it isn't wrong, but that trying to paint it as outright vote buying rather than paint it as wrong by making the point that disproportionate access is equally bad is counter-productive. Because if you accuse the average politician of outright selling their vote, they'll consider themselves unjustly victimized and just think you're a crank that's totally off the mark.
This is institutionalized and legalized bribery, not just 'access' or 'networking' or whatever euphemism you want to use to couch this in niceties.
The problem is that people are too often looking at this as if it is the latter, when it usually is the former. That doesn't mean it's not a problem, but it means that attempts to try to address the latter will be totally ineffective, and addressing the former is far harder in general, because the "payoff" can be very tangentially related and non-obvious.
E.g. it can be as tangential as "look at me giving money to this cause over here that I know that you like (wink, wink)". No direct exchange needs to happen. No direct benefit needs to be had then and there - just the acknowledgement that party X will be very grateful were you to listen more carefully to what they say (not even one on one with you, but say, in a committee, or even in PR releases) and understands your interests.
Direct bribes are "easy" to stop in comparison. And so they're the wrong focus. The consequence of shifting focus to more indirect influence is that the only viable solutions to stop this kind of influence is to disperse power of politicians more by weakening their individual influence, and to reduce the powers of potential beneficiaries of there decisions inherent in accumulation of capital. You draw the conclusions.
Politicians feelings doesn't come into it - nothing you try to do to stop this by regulating their interactions with business will have any real effect.
No need to look into the past for examples. The current administration isn't even waiting until they are out of office to cash out.
I think we caught a glimpse of what lobbyists are telling senators when Ted "Series of Tubes" Stevens sloppily repeated the explanation of the internet he was fed.
(To head off the argument: I agree that the "series of tubes" part itself was correct; the problem was the lacking understanding of the relationship between "data transfer has a cost" and "why net neutrality is bad". Also the dubious anecdote about intern emails. "Series of tubes" is just the label for cluster of confusions, not the part he got wrong.)
Are you implying here that the problem can't be fixed or ameliorated?
> buying a $10,000 plate at this donor dinner gets you a sit down with the Senator
What if there were no donor dinners because campaigns were limited to a set amount of public funds?
I sure hope we can find a way to fix it.
>> buying a $10,000 plate at this donor dinner gets you a sit down with the Senator
>What if there were no donor dinners because campaigns were limited to a set amount of public funds?
I think that would be a pretty good start. Enough so that I spent several years working on getting my state to join the call for a constitutional convention to overturn Citizens United and establish more fairly funded elections.
This statement is false. If you look at Open Secrets, $16,000 lines up exactly with what H&R Block and Intuit employees donated to Neal in 2016 and 2018. H&R Block and Intuit have tens of thousands of employees--it's not surprising that many donated to a Democrat with a high-ranking committee position.
Fun fact: By the article's parlance "Google" gave more to Neal in 2018 than Intuit. Gasp--Google must be in on the tax filing scam too!
What your opponent will receive in the next election or primary is a bigger issue. And that implied stick is much cheaper than giving out carrots all the time.
Maybe it would be within range of a decent crowdsourcing campaign to raise the amount of cash to buy enough influence and lobbying to move the needle on things that are in the public interest, like this issue.
Ugh. If only more of our Representatives and Senators actually worked for the people, rather than for whomever promises them the most money...
This is what PACs and nonprofits do. If you want to participate, there is probably already at least one for whatever issue you care about.
Not all candidates accept PAC funds, but enough do.
I don't know what's disheartening about it. Here in D.C., Democrats are in an ideological war with Republicans. Money is necessary to fuel the war machine: https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015.... Of course they want to get larger donors more involved.
That's all they should be allowed to spend. Then they use that money to make their case to the people on merit. No PACs, no contributions, no lobbyists, and equal access to airtime. This eliminates pay-to-play or at least criminalizes it.
Also this focus on the “merits” is misguided. The US is too big and diverse for votes to correspond very well to actual policies. By the time you get all the stakeholders on board with something the final result won’t appear anything like the original proposal. So we place a much higher emphasis on people, personality, and party than policy.
I’ll give you a concrete example of this: immigration. Canada is much less divided on immigration than the US. Here, you have one side calling immigrants criminals, and the other side calling for open accommodation of hundreds of thousands of low-skill immigrants illegally crossing the border each year. By contrast, Canada’s right is less vitriolic, but it’s left is also far less idealistic. Even Trudeau generally seems to support Canada’s point-based immigration system, which puts a heavy emphasis on English skills and education. That system would be m demonized as regressive and racist were Republicans to propose it here.
So what good does it do to vote for policy here in the US? You think anyone will hash out an immigration policy that makes both sides happy? No. So instead we raise money to go to war and try to bury the other side.
What it does is eliminate the ability of private individuals and companies to purchase time with a candidate. If you allow that, the candidate then will do what you want so they will get money for the next election cycle. It's just bribery with extra steps.
If they know they're going to get money for the next election regardless, no more or less than their opponent, they can focus on things that will improve the lives of Americans (their only donors now) and not private entities.
To your point, Canadians don't have to deal with much illegal immigration (except 18,000 [0.05% of the Canadian population] annually that cross into Canada from the US to escape the Trump administration with smugglers paid $4000USD+ to bring people up North. Many lose limbs and fingers and toes in the winter [1, 2] -- 1 in every 1000 Canadians is now an illegal immigrant who fled America). That's not really relevant to campaign finance, though, it's just horrifying.
The problem is that those who wish to reform the status quo are not as well funded or financially incentivized to create a counter-lobby. Ordinary citizens, who would benefit the most from making e-file free, would have to form a counter-lobby group and put up at least $6 million in order to have the same level of access as the tax preparation companies.
Zingales' proposed solution is to do away with subsidies and special treatment for individual companies, as they inevitably lead to cronyism.