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The Reward Method of Corruption

By       Message David Sirota     Permalink
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Created 04/13/2009 - 9:38am

The Reward Method of corruption is pretty straightforward: As opposed to the Payoff Method whereby a campaign contribution is made and then a favor is legislated, the Reward Method gives a politician a goodie after a favor is done, sorta like a dog being given a treat for rolling over.

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We often think of this only in terms of campaign contributions, but as the Politico notes [1], there is another - arguably more powerful - Reward Method at work in Washington these days:

Very often, Fazio said, lawmakers don't deal much with lobbyists and interest groups from outside their districts or states. Members tend to see K Street as a fundraising destination instead of an educational opportunity.

If members are interested in someday making the trip across town, Fazio suggested they work more closely with Washington's influence class.
"If you want to be respected in the world of Washington outside the Capitol, you need to make yourself open to that, and you learn a lot,"  said Fazio, who moved in 2005 to the lobbying law firm Akin Gump.

Becoming a professional lobbyist can be a six- or seven-figure career, and because there's no longer any shame in a lawmaker or staffer selling off their public experience to the highest corporate bidder, a whole new incentive structure has developed: The one whereby lawmakers and staffers do legislative favors with an eye towards future K Street employment.

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The problem with this is that it's very difficult to prevent. Whereas public financing of campaigns could stop - or substantially mitigate - the influence of campaign contributions, there's no real way to stop K Street from paying lots of money to employ legislators and staffers once those legislators and staffers leave government office.

Of course, public financing of elections should weaken the power of lobbyists in general (lobbyists, after all, derive a lot of their power from how much money they can direct to a legislator). But again, there's no real way to totally eliminate this incentive structure. Even a multiyear ban on direct lobbying after government service doesn't really end the influence a former legislator or staffer can peddle.

It's a vexing problem - and I'm curious if folks have any ideas as to what kinds of policies or tools could be employed to address it. Because make no mistake about it - the hope for future riches definitely impacts present-day legislating.

Campaign For America's Future

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202-955-5665 (tel) | 202-955-5606 (fax) |

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David Sirota is a full-time political journalist, best-selling author and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He blogs for Working Assets and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. He is a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. His 2006 book, Hostile Takeover, was a New York Times bestseller, and is now out in paperback. He has been a guest on, among others, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and NPR. His writing, which draws on his (more...)

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