A recent article in the New York Times goes a long way in explaining the reason for big money in federal elections. While the article detailed fundraising woes by longtime New York congressman Charlie Rangel, it indirectly explained what libertarians have long been saying what really needs to be done to address big-money corruption in congressional and presidential elections.
We start with the obvious: There is definitely big money involved in federal campaigns. Individuals and companies donate millions of dollars to candidates for Congress and the presidency.
Is all this big money owing to some deep love of democracy? Of course not. We all know that big campaign contributions are nothing more than a sophisticated form of bribery. The money is donated with the expectation of receiving benefits in the form of federal contracts, grants, subsidies, doles, or tax privileges. Or it’s donated to forestall or prevent the feds from doing bad things to the contributor. Or it’s paid as simply an insurance policy — to insure favorable treatment in the event it’s needed.
The deal is obviously not an express quid pro quo. The parties know that that would subject them to a criminal charge of bribery. But everyone knows how the game is played. If an elected congressman or president fails to deliver after receiving a large contribution, then word will get out and people will be less likely to donate in the future. Providing the favors after the contributions are made ensures a good, steady supply of big contributions in the future.
Progressives think that the answer to this corruption lies in campaign-finance laws, which place limits on the amounts of money that can be donated to federal campaigns and which require disclosure of the identities of donors. But everyone knows that notwithstanding those laws, big-money corruption continues to play a big role in federal campaigns.
The problem is that campaign-finance laws, while purporting to trim the branches of the weed, don’t strike at the root. What’s the root? The root is the entire welfare-warfare state apparatus, an apparatus that provides federal officials with the power to do good things for people and bad things to people.
That’s what the Rangel story demonstrates. Rangel served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for tax bills. That’s obviously something important to wealthy individuals and big corporations.
As long as Rangel held that position, he was in high cotton, as the article points out. Big money flowed into his coffers, which he then turned around and donated to charities in the New York area, thereby fortifying his political ties with neighborhood groups, which thereby helped guarantee his repeated reelection.
In 2010, however, Rangel was removed from his position as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Guess what happened. Since then, campaign contributions to him have plummeted. Why is that? For the obvious reason: Why should people donate to his campaigns if he can’t do good things for them or bad things to them?
That’s what the welfare-state and warfare-state way of life are all about — doling out more than $3 trillion in the form of welfare, grants, contracts, sub-contracts, subsidies, studies, foreign aid, and purchases, both on the welfare-state side of things and the warfare-state side of things. The number of people receiving $3 trillion in federal largess, either directly or indirectly, has got to be enormous.
So, what do libertarians say is the answer to all this political corruption? We say: Don’t waste time by trimming the branches with silly reform proposals. Instead, pull the weed out by its root by dismantling the entire welfare-state, warfare-state apparatus, along with repealing the income taxes and other taxes that fund it.
That means repealing every single welfare program, agency, and department by which the federal government takes money from one group of people and gives it to another.
It also means closing all foreign and domestic military bases, discharging the soldiers, abolishing the CIA and NSA, dismantling the entire military-industrial complex, and ending America’s foreign policy of empire, invasions, occupations, wars of aggression, assassination, torture, kidnappings, meddling, interventionism, and regime-change operations.
It also means the abolition of the federal income tax, a tax that our American ancestors lived without from the nation’s founding through 1916.
If federal officials lack the means to dole out benefits to people, both on the welfare-state side and the warfare-state side, then what incentive would people have to donate big money to federal political campaigns? At that point, every congressman and presidential candidate would be like Charles Rangel is today — one with little or no power to do good things for people or bad things to people — and that would be a good thing for everyone.