Nothing New Under The (Chicago) Sun

This article discusses how the campaign organization of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. has directly paid his wife more than $200,000 in the last 8 years, including almost $100,000 in the last two years, when she also has been purportedly serving on Chicago City Council. His organization also has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to her campaign organization. What has she done to deserve such compensation? Well, she’s apparently a consultant!

I freely admit that I am a cynic about such activities, but I still am frequently amazed by the brazenness of this kind of behavior. The harsh reality is that our political classes are awash in cash — they have to raise staggering sums of money to get elected, and then when they get to Washington they have access to staggering sums of taxpayer dollars to spend. This process is necessarily corrupting, and becomes all the more so when congressional redistricting results in gerrymandered, ever more safely drawn seats that are obviously Democratic or obviously Republican. When you have incumbents who can go decades without being seriously challenged, who can easily raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from lobbyists whose legislative agenda falls within the incumbent’s committee assignments, and colleagues who are perfectly content to engage in mutual back-scratching and logrolling, you end up with this kind of system.

Anyone who thinks that there is going to be broad, meaningful change in the American body politic under these circumstances is dreaming foolish dreams, soon to be dashed.

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Painfully Lame

Here’s a stunner: the promises about unprecedented transparency, accessibility, and accountability in the spending of stimulus dollars aren’t being kept. The homepage of the main website that is supposed to provide the transparency, http://www.recovery.gov, is painfully lame and looks like a beginner’s Powerpoint presentation. The linked information about how stimulus funds are being spent is equally uninspiring. Here’s the “purpose” discussion, for example, from the US Department of Agriculture program plan: “The principal objective of the Recovery Act is job creation to help promote economic recovery. Through completion of $176 million of critical deferred maintenance work at ARS facilities across the country, the Agency’s Recovery Act program will create approximately 1,900 jobs.” It’s hard to know exactly what to make of this statement — was it the maintenance work that was critical, or the deferral of it? — but what does leap out is the fact that the principal justification for $176 million in spending is the creation of 1900 jobs. You can do the math as well as I — that comes to more than $92,000 per job. What a bargain for the taxpayer! And that’s just one example.