Movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington depict small-town congressmen trying to avoid becoming corrupted by big business and lobbying groups. However, author Peter Schweizer said that in reality, businesses are often the ones trying to avoid corrupt political leaders.
The problem is not that we have sort of idealistic, civic-minded politicians who might be corrupted by outside influences. I would contend to you that an equal problem is that we have people in elected office who, recognizing their position of power, are looking to exploit it. That the problem is not so much one of bribery in that outsiders are trying to corrupt or bribe their way into influence, but rather it is politicians who are in a sense extorting individuals because of their position in power.
Schweizer’s new book, Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets, tackles the question of money in politics—and which way it is flowing. He shared his thoughts at a recent Heritage event.
Politicians want money, and according to Schweizer, fear is one of the reasons that companies and entrepreneurs give their money to politicians.
“They fear that if they don’t, bad things will happen to them or to their company,” he said.
Schweizer said that politicians will tell companies that they will not help them politically unless the company donates to their campaign.
And it’s not all about money. It’s also about power. “Privilege has replaced the good public economic policies of freedom,” Heritage’s Ryan Olson wrote last year. “The influence of a select few is eroding our economic values and introducing perverse incentives and inefficiencies that hurt our competitiveness.”
Schweizer’s book explores tactics politicians use to line their own pockets with the money people donated to their campaigns. He explained:
You are essentially being told by individuals who can make life very difficult for your company, ‘I will understand your issues better if you donate or hold a fundraiser for my campaign.’ What are you going to do? You’re going to do what a lot of large corporations do in America, and that is you give to both sides. You often times give to both candidates in a particular race because you’ve learned that to be on the bad side of a politician is not a good place to be.
In his view, Schweizer said one of the best solutions to the curb corrupt politicians is to apply to Washington the same law that 27 states already use: When the state legislature is in session, politicians cannot solicit or receive campaign contributions.