Saturday, February 28, 2004

Political Donations - Is One Person's Ideological Crusade Another Person's Corruption?
Something I'm brooding on. Many people who care about the public interest have critiqued a system where elected officials are dependent for reelection on the money given to them by big corporations. I have a bit of a problem with this myself - special interests love using the government to knock out their competition. But are all donations necessarily to thwart to "public-interest". I doubt it. Some donations are just to keep government off the back of businesses that would otherwise be regulated in an inefficient manner. Would public interest minded people have a problem with that?

Something tells me, yes, they would. In the minds of many, it is not the purpose of the donation, but the donation itself that is corrupting. A donation alters elected behavior, and I am quick to think that many good governance types view the least corrupt government as the one which has its behavior altered the least amount by extrinsic forces. A belief I would share if I believed that elected officials were actually competent.

I think the above is the wrong test. A corrupt government should not be viewed as one whose elected officials accept donations, but rather one where those with access to power use it to thwart the public interest. In my view, donations are only one way to power (and one that doesn't necessarily thwart the public interest); it is equally "corrupt" to thwart the public interest by other means, or with perfectly good intentions. This view leads to the conclusion that one person's ideological crusade should be viewed by another as corrupting the government.

Any thoughts?

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