For many Americans the phrase money and politics conjures up the same set of cartoonish images dark, smoke-filled back rooms with a fedora-wearing, cigar-smoking mobster, handing a suitcase overflowing with cash to a grinning, campaign-button-wearing, politician.
By JEFF BOWLES
Special to The Star
Maybe political cartoonists all draw from the same well. Or maybe all the publishers of high school civics textbooks just use the same illustrations. Regardless, the problem with images like these is that they make good old-fashioned graft seem like an antiquated problem of a bygone era.
But in reality, corruption, influence peddling and outright bribery are as alive and well in American politics today as they have ever been. The settings have certainly changed.
And the actors look a little different today. But the overall story remains the same.
Dimly lit back rooms have turned into boardrooms and courtrooms while lawyers and lobbyists representing Americas largest companies and wealthiest individuals have replaced the mobsters. And no longer do these deals happen out of sight.
Instead, they happen in the broad light of day tucked away as pork in a spending bill here, a special tax break or two there, in completely opaque legislative tomes whose size often rivals the rough draft of the Bible.
Oh, and the suitcase bursting with cash for the politician? It has been replaced by campaign donations and millions spent on outside issue ads to help get them elected in the first place.
Now, I dont mean to condemn all of our elected representatives. But if they dont want to be lumped in with the crooked and power-hungry career politicians that are at the root of this countrys problems, then one of them should be brave enough to introduce legislation that actually does something to address this problem.
In case they need a few ideas, heres a start at what that legislative effort should include:
First, pass a constitutional amendment that reverses the effect of the Supreme Courts idiotic Citizens United decision, which gave First Amendment protection to corporate political donations by defining money as speech and corporations as people. Its absurd.
Say it with me absurd. And, its the single largest contributor to the pay-to-get-your-way culture that is upending our country.
Second, impose strict congressional term limits. After making political candidates actually run on the issues by kicking the crutch of corporate money out from under them, the next most important way to get them to act on behalf of their constituents and not themselves is to stop them from making a career out of politics.
Finally, stop the revolving door between K Street lobbying firms and Congress by banning publicly elected officials from any and all lobbying after their terms are up. In fact, go one step further and make every meeting between every lobbyist and every public official subject to sunshine laws that document their conversations for the public record.
Now, Im pragmatic enough not to hold my breath waiting for the guys that write the rule book to write a few rules that actually apply to themselves. But heres to hoping that just because money and politics have a history in this country doesnt mean they have to have a future.
Jeff Bowles of Kansas City owns a marketing and promotions company. To reach him, send email to email@example.com or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.