Ezra Klein, Congress's Bipartisan Regard for Wall Street Money, Apr. 21, 2010, provides an eloquent statement about the problems of our current campaign finance laws: the rich are especially privileged, in that they can 1) donate to a candidate whose views they share in a way that can make a difference in that candidate's chances for election but also 2) donate to all candidates indiscriminately in a way that hedges their rights to access no matter which candidate wins. Poor constituents lose out doubly--they can afford only a pittance to help the candidates whose positions they believe most closely reflect their own, and they cannot begin to play on the "money for access" field.
So what if the access the rich are interested in is to talk about the tax laws? For an amount of up-front money, access may provide a long-term monetary benefit in the nature of a tax expenditure that is tailored to provide significant benefits to upper-bracket taxpayers. It may even be sold as a tax expenditure in the public interest--like the mortgage interest deduction, which is touted as a way to help ordinary Americans buy their own homes but which is especially beneficial for those with million-dollar home mortgages and high income tax brackets.
The rich thus have money, in part, because they have had extraordinary access and through that access have succeeded in getting Congress (and regulators) to pass wealth-friendly laws. Deregulation of swaps, for example, meant Paulson could short the toxic CDO specially created for it by Goldman and earn great wealth on a deal that might not have been allowed --or certainly would have been less likely with full transparency-- in a regulated market. The preferential rate for dividends meant that a wealthy person could earn twice the income from his stock that his secretary earned in wages yet pay not a penny more of income tax.
The power of money to buy access seems worrisome whenever it occurs, but perhaps particularly troubling if the access influences tax laws because of the underlying principle of sharing the burdens of the cost of government that is also corrupted.
So what can we do about this conundrum of the power of money to buy access? I suppose we can vote those who readily provide access to money out of office. But campaign financing pays for the information (and misinformation) that we receive, so it appears we voters will be likely to be misinformed more as the need to be informed rises. On a local level, perhaps public financing of campaigns is the answer. But on the federal level? It appears that only volunteer activism and the work of organizations intended to counter directly the influence of purchased access could have an effect.
Do readers agree that corruption of the process is especially worrisome for tax laws? Do you see any better ways to counter the corruption?