Memo to Bernie Sanders: Conservatives Also Oppose Corporate Welfare

At a panel on Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), scholars and journalists channeled one of Bernie Sanders' key issues in attacking corporate welfare. Only they didn't call for socialism or more government to rein in corporations -- instead, they backed the founders' vision of limited government to remove the crony connections between big business and big government.

Tim Carney, senior political columnist at the Washington Examiner, openly declared that "Bernie Sanders is right -- the economy is rigged, but by big business and big government." He called for more limitations on government, as opposed to more expansive government to rein in big business.

The problem is often referred to as "crony capitalism" or "cronyism." It refers to the practice of big businesses courting the government for special favors. The villains are lobbyists, and typically the heroes are lawmakers who do not accept their money (Sanders -- and even Donald Trump -- has played on this theme). As Allison Fraser, managing director of research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute, put it: "There's a whole racket of [lobbying] firms making promises to businesses on behalf of government."

Often, however, candidates who are most vocal about opposing crony capitalism end up supporting it, by encouraging a larger government with more regulations. As Fraser pointed out, "in trying to fix problems, regulators in big government often create more problems." They also back complex regulation, which tends to incentivize businesses to get in bed with government, to help navigate the laws.

The 2008 bailout was not an anomaly, noted Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute and author of the recent book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich. He listed earlier bailouts and financial incentives given to the banking industry in the past, declaring that "the financial system is not a free market system."

Nevertheless, crony capitalism does not necessarily benefit the big businesses involved. Schweitzer pointed out that the marriage between big business and big government cuts both ways: "To the extent that government can do something for you, they can do something to you." Matt Mitchell, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, quipped, "With government shekels come government shackles."