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Kissing up to K Street (cont’d)

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Of course, many look at what’s going on and can’t believe their eyes. The same Democrats who are so eagerly selling out to corporate interests had decent voting records while in the minority. But majority power is the ultimate corruption aphrodisiac–and the ultimate truth serum. It’s easy to vote with the people when Big Money interests don’t need your vote. It’s much more difficult to vote with the people when you are in the majority and Big Money interests are relying on you, pressuring you, and seducing you.

Indeed, graft–honest and dishonest–is built into the system itself.

We scoff at developing countries for allowing rampant corruption. We pride ourselves on having a cleaner more democratic system. But the only real difference is that American corruption is codified into law. Instead of envelopes of cash, we have bundled campaign checks and PACs. Instead of shadowy hustlers, we have professional lobbyists. We live in a system that pretends to be clean, while being utterly dirty.

The only way to stop this is to create public financing systems whereby taxpayers provide qualifying candidates money that does not come with the expectation of specific legislative favors. Unless we as a nation invest public resources into our own democracy, we will continue to make a mockery of our democracy.

States like Maine, Arizona and Connecticut have created successful public financing systems that have brought down campaign costs and given political opportunities to aspiring candidates who aren’t just specialists in raising huge sums of money. And more states are considering making the move.

Similarly, strong public financing legislation was introduced this year in the Senate by Illinois’ Dick Durbin. But as usual, the pay-to-play culture in Washington is hostile to anything that threatens the existing system. And Politicians who reach Congress are masters of it.

Ultimately, I am an optimist, which of course makes me perpetually disappointed. But there is only so much cynicism and anger that a democracy can take before change is forced on the system.

Polls today show more Americans than ever understand just how corrupt their government is, and they are fighting back. Two years ago we were being told just how “red” and “conservative” America was, and then a Democratic platform of anti-corruption and economic populism swept the 2006 election. The public is disgusted with graft, and is willing to reward candidates and parties that are equally as disgusted. The party that figures out this truism, washes its hands of both honest and dishonest graft, and pursues a real reform agenda, is the party that will dominate American politics in a more thorough way than George Washington Plunkitt’s Tammany Hall and its modern-day successors in today’s Washington, D.C. ever dreamed.

David Sirota, an In These Times senior editor and syndicated columnist, is a staff writer at PandoDaily and a bestselling author whose book Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything was released in 2011. Sirota, whose previous books include The Uprising and Hostile Takeover, co-hosts "The Rundown" on AM630 KHOW in Colorado. E-mail him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at

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