The Continuing Chronicles of Corrupt Cronyism

The Washington Examiner‘s indispensable Tim Carney provides another lesson in how Washington really works: Baucus rewards ex-staffers with tax breaks for their clients.

The pork in the fiscal cliff bill was described in C4P a few days ago, and examined in detail by Veronique de Rugy in National Review Online.  As Carney explains, it was “spawned by a web of lobbyists, donors and staffers surrounding Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. . . . Pick any one of the special-interest tax breaks extended by the cliff deal, and you’re likely to find a former Baucus aide who lobbied for it on behalf of a large corporation or industry organization. . . . As Obama says, everyone has to pay their fair share — even if that’s a lobbying fee to someone in Max Baucus’ inner circle.”

Carney give us names of ex-Baucus aides and their current affiliations, together with the winning clients.

Several dimensions of this story deserve comment.

First, obviously, the game is known to all in Washington. If you want the attention of Baucus, the Chair of Senate Finance, you must go through one of these crony gate keepers. And there is a reason for this — in exchange for getting rich off the clients’ fees, they ensure that some of the loot is recycled back into Baucus campaigns.  Equally important, they ensure that support is not available to challengers, either primary or general. Both MT Senators represent values that are antithetical to the interests of their constituents. But good luck in getting that message out.

Second, Baucus may be a poster child, but the phenomenon is endemic in Washington. Anyone who comments on it in DC is regarded  with puzzlement, sort of as if he had said “My, there certainly is oxygen in the air today.”

Third, this reality is seldom reported on, with of course a few honorable exceptions, such as Carney, de Rugy,some of the Wall Street Journal people, and the websites Crony Chronicles and Against Crony Capitalism.  The explanation for this reticence is murky. Perhaps because the reporters are so used to the corruption that they see no news value in it. Perhaps because it is closely linked to the culture of leaks and spin that governs most reporting. It is easy to print up the latest press release or leak from one of the ex-aides and then go to lunch. Exploring why the legislation came out as it did would require actual work. Do not expect the journalistic establishment to award Carney any prizes.

Fourth, the lobbyists are probably happy with the story. I once asked a DC lawyer if he was worried about an expose of his firm’s undue influence. He responded: “Yes, because we do not have enough staff to handle all the business this will bring in.”

Fifth, my last post quoted John Joseph Wallis on Systemic Corruption. Wallis himself quoted Lance Banning on the views of our forebears on the topic:

‘Corruption’ was a central term . . .  that linked a number of specific threats into a single process of decay. ‘Corruption’ might refer to bribery, embezzlement, or other private use of public office, much as it does today. For seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thinkers, though, the word most often brought to mind a fuller, more coherent, and more dreadful image of a spreading rot. A frequent metaphor compared corruption to organic cancer, eating at the vitals of the body politic and working a progressive dissolution.”

Wallis notes that in the early days of the Republic, both parties feared corruption. Well, the parties remain united on the issue, only now they both embrace it. And this is a big reason why the establishments on both sides of the aisle are eager to destroy the Tea Parties, Sarah Palin, or anyone else who threatens to disrupt the system.

“Eating at the vitals of the body politic” — that pretty well nails it.



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Author: "Ending 'Big SIS' (The Special Interest State) and Renewing the American Republic" (2012) [] and "Property Matters--How Property Rights Are Under Assault and Why You Should Care" (1997). Some former jobs: Assistant Director of Consumer Protection in FTC; member of the Program Analysis Staff of the US Bureau of the Budget; Research Director of the Administrative Conference of the United States; Director of IPCentral at the Progress & Freedom Foundation; VP & GC of the National Legal Center for the Public Interest. Graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, former Book Review Editor of the Harvard Law Review.

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