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Voters Need to Read "Extortion"
Thursday, 24 October 2013

October 24--  This article from The New York Times reviews a new book called "Extortion" that should be required reading for voters before next year's elections.

The Conservative Who Hates Slush Funds

The Breakers Palm Beach Hotel in a 2003 publicity photo. The Breakers Palm Beach/Associated PressThe Breakers Palm Beach Hotel in a 2003 publicity photo.

A new book, sure to wind up on the nightstands of all campaign finance geeks, documents the many ways in which a torrent of cash is corrupting members of Congress and providing benefits for the wealthy. The issue cannot get enough publicity, but the best news of all is that the book was written by a conservative.

Its unambiguous title is “Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pockets,” and the author is Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and an editor-at-large at Breitbart.

Mr. Schweizer’s book shows how members of Congress of both parties use the unregulated vehicles known as leadership PACs to collect huge amounts of money from contributors and spend it on anything they like. The PAC of Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, spent $10,000 at a Pebble Beach golf resort, $27,000 at a steakhouse, and $107,752 at the Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Fla. Representative Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York, bought a painting of himself using $64,500 in PAC money. (A PAC is one of the few things that senators as ideologically opposite as Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren have in common.)

In an op-ed essay published in The Times on Tuesday, he also argued that politicians ranging from Speaker John Boehner to President Obama raise money by threatening to push provocative legislation, then holding back to see which interests contribute the most cash for or against the measures.

There’s no reason why reducing the influence of money should be a conservative or a liberal project. These are fundamental questions of better government, and Tea Party activists who complain about the influence of insider elites should be just as angry as liberal do-gooders. A leadership PAC allows people to contribute six times the limits on standard campaign donations, and retiring lawmakers are even allowed to keep the cash if they choose. That turns a political slush fund into something even worse: A conduit for outright bribery.

But, aside from Mr. Schweizer, the push to limit and disclose political donations has come almost entirely from the left. Conservatives, led by Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, have done everything possible to keep the money flowing. The reason is entirely self-serving: For all the talk about free speech and liberty, Republicans know the biggest bank accounts are on their side, and they don’t want anything to block that advantage. They also don’t want anyone to find out who is giving unlimited contributions, and who is benefiting.

The truth eventually comes out, however, through the work of individuals like Mr. Schweizer, as well as groups like the Sunlight Foundation, The Center for Responsive Politics, and Democracy 21. (Not to mention old-fashioned journalists.) If ever there were an issue on which left and right could come together, it’s this one, and a good first step would be legislation, co-sponsored by members of both parties, to put an end to leadership PACs.

 

 
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