Walter E. Williams

Jack Abramoff, the Washington lobbyist who's pled guilty to charges of conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion, has showered millions of dollars on the campaign coffers of both Republican and Democrat congressmen. Like a kid caught with his hands in the cookie jar, many congressmen seek to distance themselves by purging their coffers of Abramoff money. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., in reaction to Abramoff's guilty plea, has pledged to "examine and act on any necessary changes to improve transparency and accountability for our body when it comes to lobbying."

Whatever actions Congress might take in the matter of lobbying are going to be just as disappointing in ending influence-peddling as their Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, known as the McCain-Feingold bill. Before we allow ourselves to be bamboozled by our political leaders, we might do our own analysis to determine whether the problem is money in politics or something more fundamental.

Let's start this analysis with a question. Why do corporations, unions and other interest groups fork over millions of dollars to the campaign coffers of politicians? Is it because these groups are extraordinarily civic-minded Americans who have a deep interest in congressmen doing their jobs of upholding and defending the U.S. Constitution? Might it be that these groups and their Washington-based lobby arms, numbering in the thousands, just love participating in the political process? Anyone answering in the affirmative to either question probably also believes that storks deliver babies and there really is an Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.

A much better explanation for the millions going to the campaign coffers of Washington politicians lies in the awesome growth of government control over business, property, employment and other areas of our lives. Having such power, Washington politicians are in the position to grant favors. The greater their power to grant favors, the greater the value of being able to influence Congress, and there's no better influence than money.

The generic favor sought is to get Congress, under one ruse or another, to grant a privilege or right to one group of Americans that will be denied another group of Americans. A variant of this privilege is to get Congress to do something that would be criminal if done privately.

Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
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