Sunday Soapbox: Conflict of Interest

>> Sunday, November 29, 2009

*Steps on Soapbox*

Once again, it's time to complain. I work, indirectly, for the government. Since I work for a nonprofit, we don't really compete much for space contracts. However, if I gave a NASA employee anything more than $10, it would be considered a conflict of interest, whether it was because I was best friends or just wanted to pick up a dinner tab. I'm not complaining. There are very good reasons why such things are illegal, why insider trading is illegal, why I support full disclosure. People paid by the defense (or prosecution), by an advertising agency, etc. have a monetary reason to say something, whether they agree entirely or not. They have something to gain. It affects objectivity.

People understand this and often become upset when they realize an "expert" has provided an opinion, driven by greed. They know that insider trading can let people take advantage of information they shouldn't have to buy and sell at the expense of others who don't have that information. That kind of cheating can cost people everything.

So, why is it that the people who write the laws that determine our regulations, that take us in and out of war, that determine social services, how many and what kind, that, in fact, are key elements in the lives we all lead, can be legally bought and sold by special interests. And why, as the public these people were elected to serve, aren't we shouting louder about this travesty?

We object to NASA employees getting bought dinner, but shrug our shoulders when congresspeople and senators jet from coast to coast to be wined and dined by insurance lobbies and tobacco interests, pharmaceutical companies and military contractors, big oil and big business. Millions of dollars (literally) are poured into campaign funds knowing that getting someone elected serves to get this public servant to serve your interests - and hang the public! This isn't a democrat thing or a republican thing. They all have dirty mitts covered with filthy lucre.

People say, there's nothing we can do about that. The system is the way it is.

I call BS. Someone explain to me why campaigns need millions of dollars, billions of dollars? Why are lobbyist a legal profession, people who make a living influencing our lawmakers through wealth?

In an ideal world, our government system might work quite well - if we weren't complacent about our duly elected (and paid) public servants being legally bribed. If elections were conducted by each candidate given 500 words to explain why they are the best choice (which they can choose to sell themselves or slam their opponent, their choice). Those 500 words are fact-checked by an independent agency and everything dishonest is deleted. You lie, you get nothing in your spot. Then, include a "resume" - all the jobs you've ever had, all the interests you still have (like, say, oil investments), and, if you've been a lawmaker before (or are the incumbent), your complete voting record. with an option to provide a rationale (100 words or less) on why you voted no. And all the bills you sponsored or cosponsored.

That should tell a constituent what you stand for, what you believe in, and, if they know your past campaigns, how well you did what you promised. That should be all you need.

Someone wants to stage public debates, that's fine - in a public forum.

No TV/radio ads. No hints that this opponent or another is Hitler in disguise or a closet Mengele.

Government pays to distribute these to every registered owner and place them in libraries, public buildings and on a website. You won't have to be rich to be elected or sell your soul to special interests. And, if someone does the latter, he can be readily spotted and his skin nailed to the wall.

It's our country, damn it, and the public servant should be serving the public interest and no one else's.

At least that's what I think.

*Steps off soapbox*


  • The Mother

    These days, the cost of a campaign is staggering. You have to reach all the dunderheads who don't read or have any interest in politics, yet none the less vote, and therefore determine who wins.

    I can't imagine doing it. Better anyone else than me.

    Unfortunately, the "anyone else" is often the "last person on earth I would chose to vote for." Regardless of conflicts of interest.

  • Jeff King

    Amen Steph... we need radical change if we are going to move forward.

    I have never understood how special interest groups were allowed to exist at all. It boggles my mind.

  • Shakespeare

    We have two problems here:

    1. Stupid, lazy people who aren't willing to research candidates and figure out what they are really planning, what their real experience is, and what they are really doing with their jobs now.

    2. Stupid, corrupt people who are too busy looking after their own future election fund to be willing to end the HORRIFYINGLY corrupt system as it is now. Why would the people who get the millions of dollars turn the money down, after all?

    The answer? Because it's wrong. Because they SHOULD. Because not doing so places the emphasis of lawgiving on special interests, not on the true needs of our country, our states, and our people.

    I wish I knew how to end it.

  • Roy

    Hear, hear, Steph! I don't know how to cure it, though, short of leveling DC with a tactical nuclear strike and starting this government thing up from scratch again.

  • Stephanie B

    That's the problem. People say, "Oh, it's too hard to fix. It can't be done."

    I don't believe it. They said the same thing when it came to getting rid of slavery and desegregation, and a dozen of other things.

    One of the strengths of this country is that, if we decide something is worth doing, we freakin' do it. If the American public said, "That's it, we aren't going to stand for it," it could be done.

    That myth that it can't be done is the only thing in our way. That and the powers that be that want to use our tax money to serve their purposes instead of ours.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, yes and yes again. But how? They ones who make the laws are the ones pocketing the money - You expect them to put themselves out of business? There was some rational for lobbyists - somethng along the lines that they provide does Google...

  • Relax Max

    Since I’ve blogged about this a number of times, you probably know I am on your side, and that I believe a huge amount of our problems stem from our corrupt Congress.

    But - now -reform is in the hands of those we want reformed. Would they ever pass laws to do the things you talk about? Term limits? Campaign reform? Soft money? Kickbacks?

    I will say it again: a Constitutional Convention is all that can save us. The founding fathers assumed that honesty would prevail. They were wrong. We need a constitution that is more specific and which doesn’t assume anything.

    Wanna help me write it? I know damn well what I would put in it. :)

  • Stephanie B

    Sounds like a plan, Relax Max.

    I refuse to believe there is nothing to be done. I know we say that. I'm sure they want us to believe we have no choice but to live with corruption as part of a democracy, but I don't believe it. To be honest, I'm insulted they think I believe I should have to.

  • Relax Max

    Be as insulted as you want, but history shows us that the corruption is inherent, from one congress to the next. If ever a "good" congress rose above corruption, their slow replacements would again sink into corruption. Power corrupts. Period. It is deeper than the U.S. Congress; it is human nature. Only new legal restraints will help us. But they would probably soon find ways around anything we wrote down in a new constitution. Sigh. Well, maybe we should just write Congress out of the new constitution, eh? Chalk them up to a noble failed experiment. The states can just send ambassadors to the other states to effect cooperation. And they can also inform the Federal President what they want done with regard to international issues. No need to let Barney Frank and Nancy stay on at all, actually...

  • Stephanie B

    Why would I be insulted? I agree with you. When I say something can be done, what I mean is that the rules, as they are, aren't working. We cannot expect Congress to police itself.

    What I won't believe is that there is nothing that can be done to change the rules.

  • Stephanie B

    (And even if you did disagree that there was nothing to be done, I wouldn't be insulted. I make no claims to omniscience.)

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