I have always thought campaign contributions to be legalized bribery until I read this book and my outlook completely changed.

In New Jersey Birdsall Services Group was destroyed because one of the maneuvers they needed to play to stay in the pay-to-play game was not officially sanctioned.  Yet shouldn’t the blame for this corrupt system lie squarely with those who make the rules and have the ability to change them if they so desired?   It should and that’s what Peter Schweizer asserts in ‘Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets”.   Excerpts from the Introduction lay out the persuasive  argument:

we have come to believe the problem in Washington is a sort of legalized bribery.  If outside interests can only be held at bay, we can and will get better leadership.  But what if we are wrong?  What if the problem is not bribery…but extortion?  What if the Permanent Political Class in Washington, made up of individuals from both political parties, is using its coercive public power to not only stay in office but to threaten others and to extract wealth, and in the bargain pick up private benefits for themselves, their friends, and their families? page 2

As we will see, bills and regulations are often introduced not to effect policy change, but as vehicles for shaking down people for those money and favors.  Indeed, the motive on both sides often has nothing to do with creating a “correct” policy, but instead is often about maximizing profits. page 4

Gridlock,complex laws, highly technical bills, and regulations that target specific groups have a commercial purpose for the Permanent Political Class. page 8

Politics in Washington is a lot like professional wrestling.  What seems like vicious combat to the uninitiated is actually choreographed acting.  Professional wrestlers face off in the ring, shouting and pointing fingers and appearing to hate each other.  But in fact they are partners in a commercial enterprise to entertain and extract money from an audience.  No matter who wins the match, everyone gets paid.  pages 8-9.

“milker bills,”which are intended to “milk” companies and individuals to pass or stop legislation that will benefit or hurt them…introduced largely for the purpose of squeezing money out of the target. page 13

The rest of the book lays out the sordid details and methods but here is a New Jersey-related excerpt on one of those private benefits:

Congressman Robert Andrews of New Jersey might get the award for creativity and artistic ability: He funneled campaign money to several theaters that would engage his daughter (an actress and singer) to perform.  His campaign donated money to the Rock School of Dance, where his daughter trained, and then paid the Prince Music Theater and the Walnut Street Theater, both in Philadelphia, tens of thousands of dollars in donations for events and “expenses.”  His campaign also bought tickets for school groups to attend performances.  His campaign committee donated to the Broadway Theater in Pittman, New Jersey, where his daughter performed.  And when she performed at Six Flags Great Adventure Theme Park in New Jersey, his campaign picked up meal expenses. pages 77-8.

8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by bpaterson on October 28, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    In the past I had given some out of the box thought as to how to put an end to quid pro quo. Onerough idea I came up with, is to have all donors give campaign donations that they want to go to certain candidates first go to a third detached party. Maybe it would be a church or a committee made of churches. Unknown how tax deductibility would figure in though.

    The donor gets a money order made out to the church committee, and with separate written instructions which campaign(s) would get the money. The church committee cashes and distributes the donation per instructions. Maybe the church committee gets a 5% vig for the efforts.

    since its a safe assumption that this whole big money political system on both sides are basically thieves, one result would be that there would be created a healthy dose of skepticism and unease between politician and donor as he hears that his “buddies” have claimed to have donated $1 mill in total donations to his campaign and yet his campaign only has $500k. Plus if the polticians doesn’t trust his donors integrity that he donated the whole amount, the donor wouldn’t get the quid pro quo. Suspect donations would start drying up and that would at least get people and honest donors to send in money if they really feel the politician deserves it.

    Another idea may be that for every $1 donated to your favorite politician, he gets 75 cents and his opponent automatically gets 25 cents. Takes some of the edge of the quid pro qquo.


  2. Posted by Tough Love on October 28, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    John, What’s your take on the “legality” of Rep. Andrews donations, which seem pointedly purposed to get something in return …. continued work and preferences for his daughter ?


    • Legality isn’t the issue. When you make up the rules you are likely to make whatever you like to do legal.

      The Andrews story was in the chapter where he went into how campaign war chests can be accessed. The most common scams are putting friends and relatives on campaign payrolls and making a personal loan to your campaign and charging an exorbitant rate of return that you pocket. Clearly unethical to someone not invested in having it be ethical.


  3. Posted by Rick on October 29, 2013 at 12:13 am

    How much is extortion and how much is bribery? And, could it be both things at the same time in the same instance? (I suspect it could–with each side thinking it’s bulldozing the other.)

    Much would depend on the level of volition, which is probably impossible for a social scientist to conceptualize and operationalize. I don’t think I’d find much research on it–outside of those based in crime statistics, which probably include significant bias. Economically, though, it’s just a market externality. They enjoy it–we pay for it.


  4. Posted by Javagold on October 29, 2013 at 1:56 am

    Extortion and Bribery. The 69 of politicians.


  5. Posted by Carl Lee on November 14, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    Near as I can tell, nobody has checked to see if Bain contributed to the other side of that race, too. I think it’d be hard to find any successful politician in a major northeastern city who hasn’t taken money from Bain or some Bain-alike private equity firm, but whatever. Let’s keep going with this witch hunt! It’s a great idea to drag down a rising star in the Democratic party while simultaneously chasing after Wall Street investors who donate to Democratic causes. We’ll have the purest party in the whole country once we’ve driven all the money out of it! Booker will be on The Rachel Maddow Show tonight at 9 Eastern Time.


  6. The campaign expenditures in question were made in 2010. As of Wednesday, the ELEC’s website did not show any amended reports on file for that time period showing reimbursements DiVincenzo made to the campaign.


  7. The campaign expenditures in question were made in 2010. As of Wednesday, the ELEC’s website did not show any amended reports on file for that time period showing reimbursements DiVincenzo made to the campaign.


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