Hmmm. Gregg Easterbrook riffs on the familiar complaint that money is contaminating politics. But his complaint is less about buying influence than dereliction of duty:
Read this insightful (and thoroughly depressing) piece by James Bennet of The Atlantic detailing how contemporary American politics not only is driven by campaign money, but is becoming entirely a pursuit of campaign money, with all other questions (right and wrong, what’s good for the country, dull stuff like that) secondary. Excerpt: “By late July, Barack Obama had held 194 fundraisers in his third and fourth years in office. In the same period, Ronald Reagan held three.”
We all know this. We’ve been in campaign mode since December 2008. But whereas most of the Left suggest that we gut free speech and limit contributions … or gut freedom of association and force the taxpayers to fund campaigns … Easterbrook has a better solution:
Don’t try to limit donations — forbid fundraising by current public officials.
If any person or organization wants to donate to the president or other elected official, fine, so long as the donation is disclosed. But it should not be fine for a sitting president or other elected official not only to solicit donations but to do so on public time, receiving public pay and benefits while asking interest groups for more money. Surely this engages the “actuality and appearance of corruption” the Supreme Court said in 1976 was the one aspect of political money that may be regulated.
Holding a political office is a form of employment. Employers may impose rules. If you told your employer, “I am not going to perform my duties for months at a time because I am jetting around the nation fundraising for myself, and by the way I expect my full salary,” your employer would not tolerate this. Voters should not tolerate this either. Foreswearing fundraising should be one of the conditions of holding public office. And if that handed an advantage to challengers — good, because incumbents hold too many advantages.
Conservatives have been complaining about this continually since Barack Obama was elected — that he seems to spend most of his time campaigning and fund-raising (Obama even fund-raised after the attacks in Libya). And … we’re right. Say what you want but … 194 fund-raising events in two years is ridiculous. And Obama is not unique in this: our entire Congress is engaged in this sort of behavior, dashing out of Washington practically every week to hobnob.
I think Easterbrook underestimates the sheer money advantage challengers would have if incumbents were forbidden to fund-raise. But I also think people overestimate the impact of outside money on elections and underestimate the power that incumbents have to use the treasury to campaign. A good compromise might be forbidding politicians from fund-raising while Congress is in session.
What do you guys, think? Keep in mind, that this would hobble a Romney re-election campaign in 2016 or a Christy re-election campaign in 2020. Do you think it would be worth it to have, very likely a series of one-term Presidents, if they were more focused on … you know .. their fucking job?