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January 21, 2005

Bush Attacks States Rights/Promotes Corruption

Following up on this previous post, the federal government is still fighting to yank $250 million in federal transportion funds because New Jersey wants to ban political contributors from receiving state-controlld highway contracts. In court filings, the Bush administration argues there is no possible connection between political contributions and political corruption in public contracts:

"Nothing about a bidder's history in contributing, or not contributing, to political causes or elective contests impacts in any way the ability of that contractor to provide quality work at an efficient price."
It's hardly surprising that the Bush administration can't imagine that taking large corporate bucks might corrupt the bidding process -- this is the administration of Halliburton -- but topping that position off with an assault on states rights to control how they spend public money just keeps the administration in the hypocrites winner circle.

Not that federal rules on how states spend public funds -- some of which come from the feds -- are all illegitimate. But going after this rule is such pure scut work by the Bush administration on behalf of its corporate paymasters that it ought to be embarassed.

Update: Ronald Coleman in comments asks:

what does state's rights have to do with getting federal pork? There is no right to pork. You make a deal with the devil, you have to keep it.
An excellent question. Actually, conservatives regularly assert (not that I agree with them) that such conditions are violations of the Constitution. For examples, see here and here. I don't buy the constitutional argument, so maybe I should have "states rights" in scare quotes, but there is some principle to the idea that Congress should not recklessly use its control of the budget strings to control state actions. That's a political argument that I think is reasonably raised in this case.

Update 2:
Carpe Bonum responds that he doesn't think any campaign contribution limits make much difference to begin with:
Isn't it more likely this rule will merely push the contributions under the table, or induce contributors to use "independent" groups to launder their contributions?
While I hardly think campaign finance rules in general have kept money out of politcs, this kind of rule preventing pure quid pro quo deals -- give me the contract and I'll give you the cash -- is one of the few versions that is useful. Corrupt deals might be just driven underground, but it just becomes harder for each side to trust the other when the deal is cut indirectly.

But Carpe's real objection seems to be that it's somehow one-sided:

Where is the executive order preventing unions from working jobs if they make political contributions?
The question is a little odd, since "unions" don't work jobs; union members work jobs for competing companies, so they work the jobs whoever gets the contract in most cases. They don't solicit bids so restricting their contributions wouldn't effect who gets the contract.

What Carpe might be subtly objecting to are the contracting rules --
at both the federal and state level -- that require public works to pay a decent wage, usually the union scale, which prevents low-wage, usually non-union companies from doing such work. Now that doesn't effect any individual contract, but it's no doubt a public policy rule that Carpe would object to.

We could of course prevent anyone from contributing to any politician who might ever vote on any public policy issue that would effect them economically-- but that would of course eliminate all political contributions. The goal of the New Jersey rule is much simpler-- to prevent contributions to the executive branch, the people actuallly handing out the money after public policy has been set.

Now, it may be the right rule or not, but it's telling that the Bush administration has chosen to make a legal stand to fight it.

Posted by Nathan at January 21, 2005 07:35 AM