Friday, February 11, 2005

Hilarity Ensues

Just reading through a Weekly Standar post-mortem of the accusations against two high-powered Republican lobbyists, and it's such good reading I think you all really should check it out. Basically, two intensely partisan and ideological Republican lobbyists made a killing by dominating Indian-casino lobbying, and charging exorbinant prices and hiding their various conflicting interests. You know I take particularly enjoyment out of partisan publications ripping into their own side.

A few fun quotes include:

When one of Abramoff's tribes, the Tigua of El Paso, Texas, had trouble paying its retainer, the lobbyist came up with an innovative solution--a "brand new deal," as he put it to the tribe's representative, Marc Schwartz. Abramoff suggested an "elderly legacy program": The tribe would take out term life insurance on its oldest members, naming the school (Abramoff's pet non-profit) as beneficiary. As the oldsters dropped off and the money rolled in, the school would pay Abramoff's retainer out of the proceeds. "Once the group of tribal elders has completed [a medical] exam and are accepted by the insurance company," Abramoff explained in a memo, "the financing phase will commence immediately." According to Schwartz, the elders of the tribe declined the arrangement.

More interesting, I love the particular game they had going in Texas.

As we've seen, Abramoff prized casino tribes as "low-tax sovereign economic models." But even "laboratories of free enterprise" don't like competition. Often tribes hired Abramoff to make sure that other tribes did not develop their own sovereign economic models which might drain away business... Their [The Louisiana Coushattas tribe hiring Abramoff's] idea was to prod Texas Republicans to shut down the new casinos, either through the Texas legislature or the courts. Scanlon promised to launch a "grass-roots campaign" to pressure the Texans.

And he enlisted Abramoff's old colleague Ralph Reed to help... [Reed's foundation] was paid at least $4.2 million to organize a grass-roots campaign--working phone banks, writing letters--to shut down the Texas tribes' casinos and, as Reed put it in one email, "get our pastors riled up."... Sure enough, in February 2002, the Texas casinos were shuttered by a Texas court, acting pursuant to an order sought by the Texas attorney general John Cornyn (now a U.S. senator).

The Texas tribes were devastated, of course, but Abramoff was energized. Shortly after the court order, through an intermediary, he approached one of the tribes, the Tigua of El Paso, offering to use his lobbying magic in Washington to get their casino reopened. The Tigua had no way of knowing that Abramoff and Scanlon had been involved in the campaign to shut down their casino.

On February 6, 2002, Abramoff emailed Scanlon under the header I'm on the phone with Tigua: "Fire up the jet, baby, we're going to El Paso!"

Scanlon responded: "I want all their MONEY!!!"

Now I post this for a couple reasons. One, I think this is hella hilarious. You all have probably heard that they secretly got a casino shut down so they could represent it in trying to start back up. But that they were actually paid to shut it down by another tribe, is just wonderful. It sounds more like Jason being proud of a strategy of his in Risk 2010, than anything else. Make sure to check out their email evidence for more amusement.

But also, an important point of defense for our form of government compared to more parliamentary democracies are that it is a republic that gives strong powers to the individual representatives. People often do vote on the personal details of their congressman or other officials more than just their party line. Representatives have a great deal of freedom to buck the party on issues, make legislation on their own, and set up their own enclaves of power (committee chairmanships, PACs, lobbyist relationships, etc.) In fact, political theorists believe one of the reasons our two-party system is so resilient to any new parties is because the extant parties are so weak and allow independence for the rebellious political figures anyway.

I personally think this kinda of thing has got to stop. "Independence for individual politicians" means "inefficiency". Individual politicians tend to fly much more below the media radar than a whole party. The complexities it takes to get things done (state legislatures and bureacracies, house, senate, federal bureacracy) are all Constituionally mandated, and were ways for Abramoff to game the system without the right hand knowing what the left was doing. Throw into this a complex party heirarchy where a politico wants money not just for re-election or personal comfort - but to give to other politicians and gain power within their party, and the entire system is something that would make any arbitrager or hedge-fund analyst drool.

Thus my thesis: the “checks and balances” of the Constitution are inefficiencies that directly lead to abuse by lobbyists and other organizations. Not that this argument alone is reason to abolish our founding document, or that party-based parliamentary systems are completely immune from corruption (they just have less). But we are imposing a rather large cost on ourselves, and my goal is to get people to see these news items in that way.


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