Tags: Schweizer | corrupt | politicians | legislation

Conservative Accuses Congress of Extortion

By    |   Thursday, 16 January 2014 07:25 AM

Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute, recently made a presentation to the Young America's Foundation on his book "Extortion: How Politicians, Extract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pockets." As Congress launches another session, it is timely to examine how politicians operate and what is wrong.

This is the first of two articles on this theme. Friday's article will feature a book from a so-called "progressive" perspective, but one that makes some points that might be surprising to conservatives.

The introductory joke, which was well-received, was that the CIA is going to hire the Obama White House to design the Al-Qaeda website in order to undermine the organization.

Schweizer cited findings by the World Bank and World Economic Forum showing that the United States has dropped from the middle to the bottom of industrialized nations in dealing with cronyism corruption, so that it is now the most corrupt.

Other data points he cited were that Washington has the highest per capita income, explaining that the city has a Ferrari dealer that, compared with others in extremely prosperous locations like South Beach and Beverly Hills, are less profitable, because buyers of these cars in Washington tend to pay with cash and not to avail themselves of financing packages.

The author drew a somewhat idealized comparison between Silicon Valley, which he credited with achieving wealth by providing goods and services, and Washington, which he characterized as an "extractive" city that achieves wealth at the expense of the rest of the country. He concluded that the United States is moving from a free market to an extractive model, that the Jimmy Stewart legend has given way to The Sopranos, where people are only as good as their last envelope.

Elaborating on this model, Schweizer recalled the notorious practice in New York City of extortionists approaching cars, when they stopped for a red light, with a squeegee in one hand and a brick in the other. He quoted Ronald Reagan and Thomas Jefferson as warning that a government with the power to do something for you can also do something to you.

Schweizer went on to list a catalog of abuses by rent-seeking politicians:

Milker bills. Greedy politicians introduce legislation to attract contributions from opponents of the bill who want to keep their businesses safe.

Toll booth. Constituents and interest groups are expected to pay for services, even including meeting with the member.

Complexity. Whereas Glass-Steagall was only 35 pages, Dodd-Frank was more than 2,000 pages and could amount to 10,000 pages with all its regulations. This provides endless opportunities to raise funds from entities interested in the implementation.

Executive branch. Attorney General Eric Holder was a major "bundler" for Obama.

Lifestyle and personal enrichment. Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., lent $150,000 to her campaign and charged it 18 percent interest, totaling $200,000; leadership PAC has no restrictions on how funds are spent, so they can fund, for example, overseas golf outings.

In conclusion, Schweizer proclaimed himself an optimist and suggested that extraction could be deterred by legislation that would require members to read bills before they vote on them and to prohibit solicitation of contributions when Congress is in session.

I would observe that given how adept members have become in evading existing law, with rules that prohibit them from accepting contributions on Capitol grounds and sit-down meals, it is extremely naive to think such measures would make any difference.

Schweizer admits that the ultimate solution can only be to reduce the size of government. However, readers can see why this would not be attractive to enterprising legislators.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute, recently made a presentation to the Young America's Foundation on his book "Extortion: How Politicians, Extract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pockets."
Thursday, 16 January 2014 07:25 AM
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