Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Congress, Money & the Constitution | WBUR and NPR - On Point with Tom Ashbrook

Recently, NPR’s On Point dedicated a segment on the issue of influence of influence of the private sector on policy—which happens to be one of my research interests. Building upon the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the radio program featured Larry Lessig, who recently published a thoughtful piece in The Nation in which the Harvard professor argues that Congress is a ‘politically bankrupt’ institution that needs to be reformed. ‘The US Congress has become the Fundraising Congress. And it answers … not to the People, and not even to the president, but increasingly to the relatively small mix of interests that fund the key races that determine which party will be in power,’ Lessig writes. It answers to (and keeps getting blocked by) ‘the defenders of the status quo,’ as President Obama referred to as a candidate during the presidential campaign.

On the radio program, when asked what is the root of our problem (whether the parties or the money that parties receive), Lessig answered that ‘we supposedly have two parties right now but that the money turns them into a single party.’ ‘Both parties begin to sing the same tune to the powerful interests that are going to give them the money to get back into office and until we change that structure, so that they don’t have to sing those tunes that Wall Street or the auto industry or the big banks or pharma or the insurance companies, we will not have real change’ Lessig added.

I find the image of ‘the defenders of the status quo’ and the notion that ‘money turns [the two parties] into a single party’ very helpful in thinking about these issues.


A. :-) said...

Is this a particularly American phenomenon or also apparent in other systems of democratic governance? Are there systems that are more or less easily influenced by the private sector? Or do we have to rely on 'individual virtue' to prevent corruption?

boggioa said...

My research shows that, in some areas of public life (my research focuses on issues of of occupational injuries) the influence of (certain segments of)the private sector large firms in particular) is substantial notwithstanding the institutional arrangement adopted in a given country. In other words, the winners and losers of the political proas tend to be the same across nations (in my research, while workers consistently. lose, firms consistently win.)