Tom Ferguson is my favorite curmudgeon and if you listen to this podcast from Radio Free Dylan [Ratigan], you are likely to join his fan club. Ferguson is a political scientist who is both a serious archivist (which means he has found how the official accounts have been doctored to flatter the victors) and is an astute observer of national and state politics.
An excerpt from the transcript of the podcast:
Tom: They stuck posted prices on their committee assignments and the slots on those committees, like committee chairs and party leaderships posts. You want the job, you write the cash and buy it at the price. You know, my memory on this is that in 2008, the Democrats wanted for major committee chairs, they wanted $400,000 in contributions and another $200,000 in promises to fundraise. That’s a lot. And, you know, for the higher up you go in the party, the more you have to raise. I mean, these guys are running an auction system and, of course, it’s not just the Democrats. This is – hey, there is success bipartisanship in America and it has to do with money in politics.
Dylan: How explicit though – you say they put a price, big box price tags on the various offices and all the rest of it, how explicit is the reciprocity between those who benefit from the funding and policy?
Tom: Well, look, that’s hard to tell from the outside, usually. On the inside, I’ve looked at probably more political correspondence on this than anybody else over about 100 years in archives. It’s often shockingly explicit. And, in general, if you think that all this cash is just given by nice folks because they love, you know, just maybe the game, which is what some foolish people have sometime suggested, or you might just consider how all of this money tends to go exactly to the committees, chairs, and committee members where it should based on where the legislation is most likely to be influenced. Now, you’re not dealing here with friends who like to admire some bird just sitting around. In general, this thing has the structure of a beehive, they say there are slots everywhere and everybody’s in their place.
Dylan: And what do you suggest is the greatest distortion in our government that results from this. Let me be very specific. Is it this distortion to policy to itself, whether it’s the tax code or trade policy or bank reform or healthcare reform, or is it the things that are never talked about at all because of the money?
Tom: Well, I’m sorted reminded of the apocryphal quote from Hubert Humphrey, “we don’t have to choose between jobs and collusion; we can have both.” Frankly, you know, hey, the stuff that’s not talked about and the stuff that is talked about, sure, nobody’s going to walk around – I mean, there’s a lot of folks who want stuff that you can’t ever discuss much, it does, nevertheless, pass Congress if you look, begin particularly when you get some of these outrageous bills where, you know, it will turn out when you parse the legislative language that it’s in a, say, Big Four accounting firm or Big Three accounting firm (since one is a happy memory), and it turns out to be like a $20 billion windfall for it or something. You may not read about that anywhere. That stuff happens, too. But, yeah, tax policy and stuff like that. Look, everything is for sale, that’s the logic of the new Congress there. Since the ‘90s, everything’s auctioned, and that’s what the bulk of the population doesn’t understand this. The insiders know it but everybody else is still in the dark. You can’t find me a single discussion of this – I was laughing in a recent discussion in the New York Times. There was some columnist in there who he interviewed a Congressman about – or an ex-Congressman about what was going wrong in Congress. And finally the guy mentions towards the end, “Oh, yes, there’s this terrible money problem.” You know, look, that’s the problem. You’re selling everything.
You can read the rest of the transcript here or listen to the podcast: