The Solution to Pay-to-Play Politics

A reform package that includes lobbyist contribution ban, state pay-to-play laws and a new campaign finance system based on small donors, limited public funds

As Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached in the Illinois House for allegedly trying to sell a US Senate seat to the highest bidder, Common Cause on Friday announced a comprehensive reform package to address the pervasive pay-to-play political environment that threatens to further undermine public confidence in government and grow worse as trillions of government dollars are distributed in bailout and stimulus packages in coming months.

“Gov. Blagojevich is the poster child for what is wrong with our system,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “He may have been unusually brash, but the way he conducted business is not that different from what happens all across America in our self-destructive, pay-to-play political culture.”

The Clean Government for Change package would:

  1. Ban lobbyist contributions, bundling and fundraising for members of Congress and the President;
  2. Adopt Connecticut-style pay-to-play laws at the state level, to ban campaign contributions and fundraising by lobbyists and government contractors.
  3. Create a new campaign finance system that enables candidates who swear off special interest money to run vigorous campaigns on a blend of small private contributions and public funds;

“We must change the way America pays for political campaigns, from Congress to county council races,” Edgar said. “Our system actually sets up elected officials to run smack into conflicts of interest and appearance problems because campaigns are funded by the same people and interests who want the most in return, whether it’s a tax break, a contract or a legislative favor. The result is scandal like we’re seeing now in Illinois and New Mexico, where Gov. Richardson is under investigation for alleged pay-to-play politics. The result is an undermining of public confidence in all elected officials.”

The ban on lobbyist contributions would include lobbyist bundling and lobbyist fundraising.

What’s more, with the federal government distributing billions of dollars in bailout and expected stimulus money, it is more important than ever that the public has confidence that money is being wisely spent.

“We need to be absolutely sure that the companies getting federal money during this economic crisis are chosen based on merit, not on how well connected their lobbyists are,” said Edgar. “President-elect Obama refused to accept donations from lobbyists and broke all fundraising records. So why can’t members of Congress do the same in order to restore public confidence that Congress is acting in the public interest?”