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December 02, 2005

MICHAEL KINSLEY ON CORRUPTION IN WASHINGTON:

The brazenness of the DeLay-Abramoff circle has caused prosecutors to look past traditional distinctions, such as that between campaign contributions and cash or other favors to a politician personally. Or the distinction between doing what a lobbyist wants after he has taken you to Scotland to play golf and promising to do what he wants before he takes you to Scotland to play golf.

These distinctions don't really touch on what's corrupt here, which is simply the ability of money to give some people more influence than others over the course of a democracy where, civically if not economically, we are all supposed to be equal. So where do you draw the line between harmless favors and corrupt bribery?

It's not an easy question if you're talking about sending people to prison. But it's a very easy question if you're just talking: The answer is that it's all corrupt bribery. People and companies hire lobbyists because it works. Lobbyists get the big bucks because their efforts earn or save clients even bigger bucks in their dealings with the government. Members of Congress are among the world's greatest bargains: What is a couple of commodes compared with $163 million worth of Pentagon contracts?

Perhaps conceding more than he intended, former Democratic senator John Breaux, now on K Street, told the New York Times that a member of Congress will be swayed more by 2,000 letters from constituents on some issue than by anything a lobbyist can offer. I guess if it's a lobbyist vs. 1,900 constituents, it's too bad for the constituents.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: A modest proposal for reducing government corruption.