114th Congress: We're updating with new data as it becomes available.

OpenCongress Blog

Blog Feed Comments Feed More RSS Feeds

Senate debates STOCK Act, dodges real issue of money in politics

February 1, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

The undue influence of corporate money in public policy is at the root of nearly all the major problems facing the U.S. right now, and in the wake of the Citizens United decision it’s only going to get worse. That’s why it was good to hear President Obama call out the “corrosive influence of money in politics” during his State of the Union speech. Unfortunately, his primary call to action doesn’t even address the real issue.

“Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress,” Obama said. “I will sign it tomorrow.”

The Senate has already responded to the request by voting 93-2 to begin debate of the STOCK Act, which would ban Congress from trading for personal benefit based on nonpublic information derived from their official positions.

As a recent 60 Minutes episode made clear, insider trading by Congress is a real problem that should be corrected. Members of Congress should never be given special exemptions from the laws they enact on everyone else. But it has almost nothing to do with how money distorts the political process and prevents Congress from doing its job and serving the public interest.

The corrosive influence of money in politics is rooted in the disproportionate level of political campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures from private interests, the revolving door that lets D.C. elites build up their personal worth by blurring the line between public and private work, and the secretive corporate takeover of elections. These things have made the U.S. Congress a systemically corrupt institution, where bribery is the norm (and perfectly legal) and a pro-corporate bias is ubiquitous. We need systemic fixes to root out the corrosive influence of money in politics. Instead, Obama and Congress are looking at cosmetic fixes to symbolic cases of individual corruption that are both rare and relatively inconsequential.

A key characteristic of systemic corruption is that the system is unwilling to recognize the corruption and, therefore, is not capable of fixing itself. President Obama’s campaign may have calculated that it is politically advantageous for him to be critical of Congress, but the fact is that he has thrived from the revolving door and corporate contributions more than any other politician in U.S. history. Congress is not going to fix itself, and the White House is even further entrenched in the system. Reform has to come from outside of Washington.

Washington has a public relations problem, and Obama and Congress have narrowed in on the STOCK Act as their latest PR strategy. If it becomes law this year, no progress will have been made on the real reason Congress’ approval rating is at a record low — the corrosive influence of money in politics — which is exactly the reason why the STOCK Act is being pursued as the solution in the first place.

UPDATE: Here are a few bills that would be better options for dealing with money in politics:

  • S.750 — Fair Elections Now Act
  • S.219 — Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act
  • S.J.Res.33 — A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to expressly exclude for-profit corporations from the rights given to natural persons by the Constitution of the United States, prohibit corporate spending in all elections, and affirm the authority of Congress and the States to regulate corporations and to regulate and set limits on all election contributions and expenditures.
  • S.J.Res.29 — A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections.
Like this post? Stay in touch by following us on Twitter, joining us on Facebook, or by Subscribing with RSS.