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The Other Corruption

With all the corporate money flooding our electoral process these days, Matt Stoller offers a timely reminder of another, equally valuable tool in the corruptor’s toolkit:

The dirty secret of American politics is that, for most politicians, getting elected is just not that important.  What matters is post-election employment.  It’s all about staying in the elite political class, which means being respected in a dense network of corporate-funded think tanks, high-powered law firms, banks, defense contractors, prestigious universities, and corporations….   Running as a vague populist is manageable, as long as you’re lying to voters.  If you actually go after powerful interests while in office, then you better win, because if you don’t, you’ll have basically nowhere to go.  And if you lose, but you were a team player, then you’ll have plenty of money and opportunity….

I think Stoller is probably understating politicians’ desire to win (there’s ego, power, maybe even a misguided belief that they’re doing good), but it’s still important to recognize that pols are not as afraid of the electoral consequences of bad behavior as we might hope.

Remember, they’re not choosing between doing the right thing and unemployment – they’re choosing between doing the right thing and cashing in.  They’re probably also betting that avalanches of campaign contributions and independent expenditures will give the voters amnesia, as it so often does.  They have every incentive to sell out, and no incentive at all to stand up, except maybe the prick of their vestigial consciences.

Whether it be campaign spending, deferred quid pro quo, or immediate quid pro quo in the form of sweetheart deals and cushy jobs for family members, corruption boils down to one simple concept: If you play ball, we’ll take care of you. As long as anyone but the American electorate is in a position to say that to the people in our government, we will never truly be a democracy.

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