Wednesday, August 17, 2011

End Legalized Bribery- a book review

I just picked up this book at the 25 cent book exchange in La Tienda at Eldorado- a great place for books of all types. "End Legalized Bribery" was written by former Congressman Cecil Heftel, and published in 1998. It was published at the same time that Arizona and Maine were adopting Public Campaign Financing systems, on which New Mexico's laws are based.

While it is noticibly dated in some respects, it is a treasury of good information proving the need for meaningful campaign financing of public elections.

Heftel's book begins with a photo of Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich pledging to take on lobbying and political reform in 1995 with the caption "They Lied". The opening chapters outline the problem, making the comparison that if donations like those during Congressional campaigns were given to judges or executive branch policy makers, contributors would be convicted of bribery.

Heftel then goes on to lay out the basics of meaningful campaign financing, including five principles: (1) limit spending and duration of campaigns; (2) eliminate money as determinant of candidates' viability; (3) create a level playing field; (4) break the hold of monied interests on our government; and (5) be comprehensive, free of loopholds, easy to understand, and easy to enforce.

The central chapters of the book give specific examples of campaign contributions by certain sectors of the economy, and the resultant laws that are passed by Congress to benefit those groups. There are chapters on health policy, defense, taxes, the deficit, the environment, and industries like the automotive.

Heftel repeatedly points out that the Big Businesses involved do not just give away money, but as with other expenditures, they expect a return on investment with their campaign contributions. And they get it-Heftel points out that Congressmen who vote with their supporters get much more in contributions than those who vote in opposition.

In spite of being written over a decade ago, this book is poignant today. The US Supreme Court recently ruled unconstitutional certain parts of the Arizona (and by extension, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and New Mexico systems). Advocates for fair elections and good government need to review these tenets and challenge the Supreme decision. One way is to amend the constition to clarify that corporations are not people, as our friends at are doing. Another is to make sure new public campaign financing laws will pass muster under the current interpretation.

No comments:

Post a Comment