China and its Discontents

No, David Brooks, Do Follow the Money

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David Brooks, whom it can be so easy to be disappointed with, answered the wrong question in his column several days ago (at this point – I’m a little late to the party). He starts with the factual that a) there’s been a lot of commentary on the role of money in politics recently, and then pivots to b) this commentary assumes campaign spending influences elections. He then proceeds to explain using numbers how campaign advertisements do little to elect candidates.

This is wrong. Why are journalists and activists complaining about money? The influence that money exerts on legislators! It’s besides the point whether or not the money is actually useful to campaigns. The reality is that regardless of whether it is effective, incumbent legislators spend way too much time on fundraising vs. legislating, and are enmeshed in a system that institutionalizes corruption. “Personal corruption,” as Lawrence Lessig has argued, is not as big a problem anymore (despite the highly-publicized instances of it). Rather, money rears its head in politics in subtler ways.

When representatives spend 70% of their time on the phone with fundraisers (I don’t have the energy to look up the citation, sorry), their attention is not where it should be. Their attention is with the people giving them money. Money buys attention, which subsequently influences legislation. Other patterns of influence surface in the bureaucracy, where drugs are tested for safety using industry-sponsored studies, and the coal industry is left to its own devices, destroying the environment mountain by mountain.

David Brooks, please don’t try to refute a position by misdirection next time.

Written by Will

October 22nd, 2010 at 3:00 am

Posted in Politics

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