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Must reads

  • Thomas Ferguson, Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems
  • Larry Makinson, Speaking Freely: Washington Insiders Talk About Money in Politics
  • William L. Riordan, Plunkitt of Tammany Hall (1905)
  • Ken Silverstein and Alexander Cockburn, Washington Babylon; on Washington Journal -- YouTube 1 and 2 -- discussing his article "Their Men in Washington: Undercover with D.C.'s Lobbyists for Hire." The article examines what lobbyists for foreign governments do, how they do it and how much of their activity is open to Congress and the general public.
  • Study of government failure (wikipedia, econ blogs)
  • Moneyandpolitics.net has an unbelievable amount of material on both U.S. and international campaign finance regulation.
  • Mark Monmonier: "Bushmanders and Bullwinkles: How Politicians Manipulate Electronic Maps and Census Data to Win Elections". A good academic overview of gerrymandering, which corrupts our politicians whose safe seats free them from worrying about relection.Amazon

Political Science

Here are a few samples of how political scientists approach this question.

  • Schlozman, Kay Lehman. 1984. “What Accent the Heavenly Chorus? Political Equality and the American Pressure System.” Journal of Politics 46 (November): 1006-1032.
  • Hall, Richard L., and Frank W. Wayman. 1990. “Buying Time: Moneyed Interests and the Mobilization of Bias in Congressional Committees.” American Political Science Review 84 (September): 797-820.
  • Evans, Diana. 1996. “Before the Roll Call: Interest Group Lobbying and Public Policy Outcomes in House Committees.” Political Research Quarterly 49 (June): 287-304.
  • Spriggs, James F. II, and Paul J. Wahlbeck. 1997. “Amicus Curiae and the Role of Information at the Supreme Court.” Political Research Quarterly 50 (June): 365-386.
  • Caldeira, Gregory A., Marie Hojnacki, and John R. Wright. 2000. “The Lobbying Activities of Organized Interests in Federal Judicial Nominations.” Journal of Politics 62 (February): 51-69.
  • Drope, Jeffrey M., and Wendy L. Hansen. 2004. “Purchasing Protection? The Effect of Political Spending on U.S. Trade Policy.” Political Research Quarterly 57 (March): 27-37.
  • Fellowes, Matthew C., and Patrick J. Wolf. 2004. “Funding Mechanisms and Policy Instruments: How Business Campaign Contributions Influence Congressional Votes.” Political Research Quarterly (June): 315-324.
  • Eggars, Andrew and Jens Hainmueller. 2008. "MPs for Sale? Estimating Returns to Office in Post-War British Politics". Unpublished.

Please research

  • How about research into the idea of requiring (by law) all political contributions to be anonymous. If a politician didn't know who his campaign contributions were coming from, then he couldn't tailor his votes to benefit those contributors. I'm sure there are crypto protocols that could be adapted to the purpose. Also, it would allow removing the existing limits on size of contribution (which are debatable from a free speech point of view).
    • I would argue that limiting political contributions isn't a free speech issue. If a rich man wants to say something, they can write a blog and get their message across that way; but they might not get a big audience for what they say. Political contributions are not about free speech, they are about buying an audience. As the phrase has it "free speech doesn't include the right to an audience"; let the thoughts of rich people be judged on what they say not on the size of their wallets.
    • The problem with this idea is that it still allows a political candidate to tailor his views/votes to the richest special interests. It also continues to allow special interests to donate money to those candidates that support their views (giving them an advantage over their opponents). A truly incorruptible system selects for candidates that have the most fair/populist views--not those with the most money.
    • A truly incorruptible system would not allow money to have any influence at all over elections. U.S. law presently supports the idea that money = speech. The problem with this is that the more money you have, the more speech you have (and the more speech you have the more influence you have). This gives an enormous advantage to the rich and severely disadvantages the poor.
    • I don't think anybody has hit on the main issue here: Special interest contributors would inform politicians of their contribution anyway, outside of the depositing system. Making the process of contributing 'anonymous' doesn't prevent that. The special interest can say, "Hey, Congressman X, we're going to give you $5,000." The Congressman then looks at his campaign fund and sees that there's $5,000 more in there than there was before, verifying that the contribution has been made. Plus, under this system, there would be no way for voters, public interest groups, and opposition candidates to analyze where a politicians' money is coming from, which is basically the only way they can currently be held accountable.
      • There are ways round this. Donations to a politician could go in a special fund, and the politician gets the whole balance every quartrer, without knowing what quantities the individual contributions came in. Or, for even stronger safeguards, the politician could be given at random between 50% and 100% of their fund every quarter.
  • It would be pertinent to examine the usefulness of television advertisements in elections. Not from the perspective of the candidate but from the perspective of society as a whole. Do advertisements for or against any given political candidate serve a legitimate purpose? A 30-second or 1-minute ad on television cannot say a whole lot and yet it can swing votes. Should a candidate with the most clever advertisements win an election? Why should the amount of money spent on ads or the cleverness of an advertising firm make or break an election? Is there any evidence to suggest that the candidate with the best or most ads is the most qualified? The best choice? Presumably the candidate with the most money would have the most advertisements and be able to hire the best advertising firm. This implies that the candidate in question is taking money from the richest sources or at best, the most sources. Television advertising may not be inherently corrupt but it can certainly be an effective tool of the corrupt. How to make it fair and just--if possible--must be carefully studied.
    • Impact of television ads in different voting systems. Oregon has vote by mail where there are no polls and the voting window covers a significant length of time. Other states have very short voting periods and polls. Does this impact the ads in a positive or negative way?
  • Consider the effects of politician's relations with, and dependence upon, the media. Almost 100% of a member of the public's contact with politicians, especially national figures, is through the broadcast media. To what extent are politicians constrained in what they're willing, or able, to say be the need to achieve, and sustain, high levels of media exposure. Are politicians whose policies conflict with the interests of media owners "punished" by getting either reduced media exposure, or hostile, critical media exposure. It'd also be useful to track the extent to which it is transgressing against the opinions/interests of proprietors which earns criticism, rather that being out of step with public opinion.
  • Research: (a) decisions to outsource government functions to private enterprises that make financial or related contributions to those in power, (b) flaws in OMB and other processes that can distort cost-benefit analysis to the advantage of those with power and/or those with a financial interest to avoid regulation (and to the detriment of the safety and health of the general public), together with the ways in which those with a financial interest can, and do, influence the conclusions of the cost-benefit analysis, (c) how those with power discourage (overtly or otherwise) the poor and others from participating in the democracy (e.g. making it difficult to register and vote, or failing to enforce laws that require making registration available in public assistance offices), (d) how incumbent politicians can use public money (e.g. postage, etc.) to their advantage against challengers, (e) legislation is increasingly being drafted by powerful interests and served up to legislators who receive campaign contributions from the drafters -- and the lack of transparency in knowing the source of the bills, (f) how powerful interest groups systematically target legislators and give significant contributions to legislators' personal interests (e.g. schools the legislators' kids attend, charities the legislator is involved in) in order to gain influence and curry favors -- e.g. Fannie Mae was notorious for these practices and nobody in Congress dared cross Fannie Mae's apple pie homeownership pitch, at least until the truth about Fannie's books were revealed; in CA, many speculate that the prison guard union is the most powerful interest group in the state and employs similar tactics to exert influence over prison building bills, and (g) the absence of any meaningful "conflicts of interest" standards for politicians, while other professions have standards that would require recusal (e.g. lawyers, judges, scientists, doctors, etc.).
  • Can "qui tam" (suing on behalf of the government) approaches to corruption be extended beyond fraud to other failures of responsability to the law by legislators, jurists, and civil servants, and result not only in financial penalty but loss of position? This approach might also enable legislators to create laws about lobbiests with teeth as a form of self-protection.

Comparative Approaches

  • It goes without saying that a thorough investigation of a solution to corruption should include a study of how money flows to elected officials is handled in other countries. For example, in The Netherlands every political party receives a healthy statutory stipend. Private party contributions have to be noted in the party's financial report as soon as they exceed €5000,- (around $6800,-). The report has to record the name and the amount. This makes for greater transparency.
  • In Canada, contributions may only come from individuals (not corporate bodies), and there is a $1100/year limit. There is a single national nonpartisan organization charged with administering elections. There are election expense limits - for the largest national parties, the maximum expense limit was $18 million/party for the last election. Radio and TV broadcasters are required to provide significant free airtime during elections, which is allocated to political parties based on how many votes they received in the previous elections. Each party receiving more than 2% of the vote gets 1.75$ per vote received in the previous election. This largely eliminates the largest reason for U.S. campaign fund-raising - buying TV airtime. Overall, elections in Canada 'cost' (in terms of trying-to-get-elected expenditures) about 1/10th (or less?) as much per capita as they do in the U.S.
  • To build a political structure with minimal corruption, it's necessary to first see which existing structures work and which fail from this perspective. For this purpose, I'd suggest doing an in-depth study comparing different countries by their legal policy on political corruption and their actual level of corruption - in other words, seeing what effect anti-corruption laws and other checks and balances have on the level of corruption in the country. If possible, this research should do a separate correlation for different types of corruption. If done in enough countries, this study should help us get an idea of how much individual laws actually do to prevent corruption.
    • Some of this work already has been done. Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini, for example, did a panel data analysis of 80 countries and found evidence that, among other things, the method of election matters a lot. There's more corruption where politicians are elected indirectly via party lists as compared to places where individuals vote directly for specific politicians. They argue that switching from an all-list elected parliament to an all-plurality system would drop corruption perceptions by 20 percent. See Persson, Torsten and Guido Tabellini, 2004, "Constitutions and Economic Policies", Journal of Economic Perspectives, 18:1 (Winter), 75-98. The bibliography there is also a decent starting point into some of the economic literature on corruption.
    • Another recent comparative analysis on political finance regulation - comparing law and practice in eight Latin American countries has been produced by Transparency International and The Carter Center. CRINIS - Political Finance "[1]"
    • It would be interesting to see if there exists a government that has a body solely dedicated to the investigation and removal of corrupt individuals in government. Something like the GAO but with the ability to kick people out. Imagine if the GAO discovered that 12 politicians who voted on a Medicare bill took money from pharmaceutical companies--and kicked those politicians out of Congress (without pension). Any such organization would need strict checks and balances itself but it would certainly be useful. The founding fathers imagined that political parties would find corruption in their opponents in order to defeat them but if both ruling parties are corrupt in the same ways they will never call each other out.
    • The key international organization on corruption is Transparency International. [2]. Their site is the best single place to get started on the insidious impact of corruption worldwide. Beyond that, as you begin to search and look for experts to which you can speak, the impact of corruption is often mentioned in papers dealing with the "Informal economy".

Corruption in action

Corruption in contemporary news

  • Iron Triangle [[3]] - process of buying influence in regulatory bodies, or using political donations to secure secure positions in regulatory bodies for persons sympathetic to the regulated industry. There are many clear examples of this in Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s book Crimes against nature, about the EPA under the Bush administration.
  • There are many examples of the revolving door at the Pentagon, where people who have secured lucrative defense contracts end up with high-paying jobs in the contractor's company. There are cases where an individual has gone back and forth between the private sector and the Department of Defense multiple times.
  • Congressman Billy Tauzin was chairman of the House committee overseeing pharmaceutical companies. After pushing through a bill benefiting the industry, he left Congress to become president and CEO of PHRMA, the industry's top lobbying group.
  • This page archives many stories of the "revolving door" between government and lobbying/industry groups.
  • In Sicily, Farmland Seized From Mafia Is Hard to Cultivate - The Sicilian Mafia transformed itself into a modern global financial enterprise, but a clash over cooperative farms underscores how their survival still rests on an ability to control local territory and everyday business of people's lives. One of the biggest threats is that the Mafia will find a way to infiltrate the cooperatives, impairing their ability to stand apart from the surrounding illegal economy.
  • Money intended for disaster relief sometimes ends up being used for other purposes. There were recent stories about how money for relief from Katrina was being used to provide tax breaks for upscale condominium developers in Tuscaloosa.
  • Albeit indirectly, a principle result of laws against attractions such as sex and drugs is to foster corruption among the supposed enforcers. For example, you can buy any drug you desire even in a maximum security prison

Research Tools