NO ADVERTISING, GOVERNMENT OR CORPORATE FUNDING

  • Latest News
  • Pitch a Story
  • Work with a Journalist
  • Join the Blog Squad
  • Afghanistan
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Baltimore
  • Canada
  • Egypt
  • Europe
  • Latin America
  • Middle East
  • Russia
  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Health Care
  • Military
  • Occupy
  • Organize This
  • Reality Asserts Itself
  • US Politics
  • Congress for Sale


    Tom Ferguson: Congressional committee seats and Chairs appointed based on dollars raised, not seniority -   November 10, 2011
    Members don't see ads. If you are a member, and you're seeing this appeal, click here


    Audio

    Share to Facebook Share to Twitter




    Understanding info is a powerful thing. Thank you to all of your reporters for making a significant difference. - Nancy SmithEaken
    Log in and tell us why you support TRNN

    Transcript

    Congress for SalePAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington.

    If you're a member of Congress, House or Senate, and you want to be a member of one of the powerful committees, or even more, chair of a powerful committee, how do you get there? Well, it used to be a matter of seniority. Now it's a matter of dollars. And how is this affect the whole issue of money in politics in Congress?

    Now joining us to help us understand all this is Tom Ferguson. Tom is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a senior fellow of the Roosevelt Institute. Thanks for joining us again, Tom.

    PROF. TOM FERGUSON, UMASS BOSTON, ROOSEVELT INSTITUTE: Hi there.

    JAY: So, first of all, what is the fact basis here? You know, I think most people think, if you watch the movies, you know, the old crusty congressman/senator used to be chair of the committees, and they got there 'cause they were there longest. But that's not the case anymore.

    FERGUSON: And they might have a heart of gold. Now they have a pocket of gold, okay, and that's a big shift.

    I mean, look, it's relatively straightforward, Paul. In the old days, as you said, you got your—rose in the hierarchy in Washington basically by just sticking around, you know, a very special form of rule by the aged or gerontocracy, though what you measured was your time in the institution, not your calendar age. In the '70s, that collapsed. The Democrats brought it down first, but the Republicans followed. And, you know, for a long while, pieces of that lingered.

    But the bottom line was, very quickly, that sort of institutional change in Congress coincided with the big revolution in the American economy that brought finance to the top, you know, taking it to be, you know, a monster percentage of all the profits, you know, in the early 2000s. And very quickly folks started—since, you know, there was no longer any sort of hierarchical structure coming from seniority, or not much of one, folks started in effect paying their colleagues to vote for them. That's—a pay-to-play system starts to develop.

    In the 1990s, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay—DeLay would actually sit in the meetings selecting committee members and chairs with printouts of members' contributions. Gingrich and the Republicans put in the further requirement that you need to raise money for the congressional campaign committees, the national congressional campaign committee; and the Senate did the same thing at its end. The Democrats copied that system.

    Now, what's—the striking implication of this, though, is what happens when you start filling the national campaign committee coffers, because that's not money the individual members control. That's controlled by the leadership. So what you get over time is a huge upward shift in power—maybe not over time in Gingrich and DeLay's thing. It was instantaneous. They got there, they put this system in, and there was no question [crosstalk]

    JAY: Tom, so this power that gets concentrated in the hands of the party leadership, I guess indirectly the administration, what significance does that have in terms of democracy?

    FERGUSON: Well, look, the first thing it does is it makes the individual members much more cautious about breaking with the party leadership. I mean, that's basically why everybody's index of party-line voting has gone up so much, I mean, the sort of massive concentration of power in the leadership. I mean, you get—it's one checkbook, one party, one message. And so just in the way they behave in Congress, they change. I mean, they act more—a little bit more like the ant colony, as it were, and a little less like the most expensive tropical fish in the tanks. Though, I mean, there are limits. The Senate's different from the House. But even there it's true.

    JAY: If you were to—if Occupy Wall Street and others were to make some demands about some kind of reform in Congress that would distribute power more evenly or more fairly within Congress itself, what would that demand look like?

    FERGUSON: Well, okay, in the end, any—I mean, I think, first of all, implicitly, I'm not—nobody in Occupy Wall Street's making lots of demands right now, and that seems to me perfectly rational. I mean, when I hear they don't have a program, I just think, hey, you know, the Democratic and Republican parties don't have one either, by the way, and they've been around a lot longer there—at least, any program that'll do much for any ordinary person.

    So that—but as you start to formulate demands, you can see already Occupy Wall Street has basically got the most important point exactly right. Yeah, it's about 1 percent of the population that's taken down most of the income gains in the last 30 years. That's the first point.

    The second thing is is that the connection between money and politics is just altogether organic at this point. It's basic. When I was down walking around the Occupy Wall Street in Boston the other day, I saw this sign that said, basically, capitalism is socialism for the 1 percent. That's about got it right. There's another sign I saw which I love, which was that congressional representatives should be like NASCAR drivers and tell us who their sponsors are, you know, just wear their sponsors' colors there. I mean, that would be a revolution in financial services, I'll tell you that.

    The—and so in that sense, people, I think, have got it. But they need to make this concrete. And, you know, here I think you've got a short and a long problem.

    The short problem is do something right away. I would myself insist that if you're on a congressional committee, you can't take any money from any interest that's affected by your decision. That's a—the reason I stress that is Congress absolutely, whatever the Supreme Court has to say, is allowed to make its own rules. They can't take—they don't have to take any dictation from the Supreme Court there. And they could do that in the current state of the law.

    They could also enforce. They could direct the Federal Election Commission to actually enforce what looked like the intent of the statute in the—the legislation that people cite as enabling the so-called superPACs to use completely secret money. I mean, that rests in part on court decisions, but the secret part of it also rests on an FEC unwillingness to enforce the law. Now, they are, of course, taking sort of low-key direction from the House and Senate leadership; I mean, the FEC staff knows exactly what's required of them there. But we could change that, I think, if you focused on that.

    In the longer run, I think you plainly want a constitutional amendment that makes it clear that corporations are not people and that allows the government to make reasonable rules on limiting money in politics. I mean, the notion that, you know, anybody who's super rich can do anything they want in American politics is ridiculous. It's a travesty.

    JAY: Just really concretely, if people were going to ask for one or two very specific pieces of legislation that might help somehow mitigate this, what would that be?

    FERGUSON: Okay. But, yeah, can I broaden the question? In the short run, I have to tell you, given that next month is the Supercommittee reporting, it would be tragic and ironic beyond measure if in the middle of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations what remains of the social safety net is shredded in the United States. You know, I hope that doesn't happen.

    And in that sense I think folks got to remember that, you know, Wall Street isn't the only constituency pushing to cut social spending and keep taxes on the rich low, but it's one of the—it's probably the most powerful single force for doing that. And you've got to watch what Wall Street is doing in Washington next month or, you know, you can—it won't matter much what happens in December if in November that Supercommittee report is rolling through, shredding, you know, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and for that matter all domestic spending almost entirely in every program.

    And you can crack down on the FEC laxity that allows these supercommittees not to report their contributions, 'cause that's partly court decisions and law, but it's also the enforcement. They are doing no enforcement at all. They're really taking their cues from the congressional leadership. I mean, that committee—pardon me—that agency has a very special relationship with Congress. But, you know, you could fix that, at least in theory. You could do it.

    JAY: Right. Thanks very much for joining us, Tom.

    FERGUSON: Okay. Bye-bye.

    JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

    End of Transcript

    DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


    Comments

    Our automatic spam filter blocks comments with multiple links and multiple users using the same IP address. Please make thoughtful comments with minimal links using only one user name. If you think your comment has been mistakenly removed please email us at contact@therealnews.com

    Comments


    Latest Stories


    Israel Uses Refugees as "Currency" in Arms Trade with Africa
    Who Will Pay for Climate Change Disaster?
    Canada Shifts to Right Under Harper, Mimicking the United States
    The Savings and Loan Crisis Demonstrates the Importance of Glass Steagall
    South African Platinum Miner's Struggle Challenges ANC Leadership
    TRNN Original Report: Manning Determined to Fight Back After Army Upholds 35- Year Sentence
    Hundredth Anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre
    The Bundy Ranch Standoff Demonstrates Values Shared by Corporations and the Far Right
    The Resegregation of American Schools
    The Modern History of Venezuela, Why Still So Much Crime? - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (7/9)
    What Role Has Russia Played in Eastern Ukraine?
    Can Johns Hopkins Afford to Pay A Living Wage? (2/2)
    University Sit-In Targets World's Largest Private Coal Company
    The Modern History of Venezuela and the Need for a Post-Oil Economy - Edgardo Lander on RAI (6/9)
    Can Johns Hopkins Afford to Pay A Living Wage? (1/2)
    One Percent of Environmentalists Killings Lead to Convictions
    Investigation Finds Former Ukraine President Not Responsible For Sniper Attack on Protestors
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (3/9)
    Ukraine Transitional Gov't Moves Militarily To Reclaim Seized Buildings
    IPCC Report Flawed By Narrow Focus on Carbon Emissions
    The Modern History of Venezuela: The Bolivarian Revolution - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (5/9)
    Obama Signs Directives to Reduce the Gender Wage Gap
    Eastern Ukraine Lacks Political Representation in Kiev
    Demystifying the Role of Mitigation in the Most Recent IPCC Report
    Hypersurveillance State Won't Prevent Another Boston Marathon Bombing
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (3/9)
    Univ. of Maine Faculty Reinstated After Students Protest Against Cuts
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1908 to 1973 - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (2/9)
    IMF Will Address Global Inequality, Says Managing Director Christine Lagarde
    Raising Big Banks' Leverage Ratio Good, But Not Nearly Enough
    TRNN Replay: Austerity Road to 19th Century
    Has Palestinian Maneuvering Revived Peace Talks?
    Late Jackson Mayor Lumumba's Son Wins Primary to Replace His Father, Runoff Election Ahead
    Quebecers Reject PQ and Elect a Liberal Government Representing Big Business
    TRNN Debate: Decriminalization vs. Legalization
    The Beginning of the Chavez Era - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (4/9)
    "Off With His Head": Court Upholds Obama's Power to Kill
    Workers at Nation's Top Hospital Strike For Fair Wages
    From Exile to Radicalization in Venezuela - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (1/9)
    Rwanda 20 Years Later: Genocide, Western Plunder of Congo, and President Kagame
    Ukrainian Protesters in the East Demand More Autonomy From Kiev Government
    Hunger Strikers Demand President Obama Halt His Record 2 Million Deportations
    Indian Parliamentary Elections - A Primer With Vijay Prashad
    West Looks to Carve Up Ukraine & Privatize Industries Held by Kleptocrats
    Where Are Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations Headed?
    The Multiple Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia (5/5)
    Do the Afghan Presidential Elections Signify Progress?
    Republican Presidential Hopefuls Pay Homage to Billionaire Casino Tycoon Sheldon Adelson
    Will Extremist Lieberman Become Israel's Next Prime Minister?
    Why do the Saudis Want the US to Attack Iran? (4/5)
    Immigrant Advocates and Families Tell President Obama 'Not One More'
    Elections, Pipelines, and Protests - The Canada Panel
    Chris Hedges on "Israel's War on American Universities"
    Baltimore Residents Decry Lack of Affordable Housing
    Yellen Talks the Talk But Will She Walk the Walk?
    Hopkins Hospital Workers Speak Out against "Poverty Wages"
    Will Venezuela's New Floating Exchange Rate Curb Inflation?
    The European Central Bank's War on Wages is Pushing Europe's Economy to the Brink
    Supreme Court Decision Opens Floodgates for More Campaign Cash
    Charles Keating, the Financier Behind the Savings and Loan Scandal, Dies at 90
    Saudi Arabia and the al-Qaeda Monster (3/5)
    Maryland Residents Voice Opposition to Natural Gas Fracking Export Facility
    Supreme Court Ruling Gives Wealthy Individuals More Influence Over Elections
    What are the Saudis Afraid Of? - Madawi Al-Rasheed (2/5)
    Baltimore's MICA Adjunct Professors Set to Vote on Unionization
    Boycott of Israel Moving to Next Level?
    Hypocrisy Dressed Up as "Realism" Justifies American Alliance with Saudi Dictatorship
    Immigration Reform in the Shadows of Cesar Chavez's Legacy
    Leaked Senate Report Shows Use of Torture As "Ineffective"
    UN Report Says Climate Change Will Threaten Food Production Worldwide
    The Hypocrisy of US Calling for Enforcement of International Law
    How the Ecuadorian Economy Grew in a Global Recession
    'Shadows of Liberty' Trailer
    Kristina Borjesson on Why CBS Shut Down Her investigation into Flight 800 (2/8)
    Glen Ford on Racism in the American Media (3/8)
    Paul Jay on What Drives Corporate Media and What Drive The Real News (4/8)
    Creating a New Media Paradigm After Citizens United (5/8)
    Should The Left Engage with the Mainstream Media? (6/8)
    What Is the Financial Backing For The Real News? (7/8)
    Standing up to Character Assassination (8/8)
    Oligarchs, Fascists and the People's Protest in Ukraine
    TRNN Debate: Is Obamacare In the Interest of Workers?
    Too-Big-To-Fail Advantage Remains Intact For Big Banks
    Obama and the Saudi Agenda
    TRNN Replay: Investigating the Saudi Government's 9/11 Connection and the Path to Disilliusionment - Sen. Graham on Reality Asserts Itself pt 1
    The Iraq War's Real Legacy
    Petitions with 100,000+ Signatures Call for Snowden's Passport to be Reinstated
    We Need to Harness People Power - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (4/4)
    BC Pipeline Fight and Quebec Elections - The Canada Panel
    Jonathan Schell - 1943-2014: Board Member of TRNN on Why We Need The Real News
    Teachers on Strike from the UK to Argentina
    Connecticut Poised to Become First State with $10.10 Minimum Wage
    Oil Spill Threatens Wildlife and Local Economy
    DC School Test Scores Up, But Poor Black Kids Are Doing Worse - Andy Shallal on RAI (3/4)
    Obama's Proposal To End NSA Bulk Data Collection Won't Protect Privacy
    How Google, Apple & The Biggest Tech Companies Colluded to Fix Workers' Wages
    An American Should be One that Questions Their Government - Andy Shallal on RAI (2/4)
    What's Driving Putin & Obama's Posturing on Ukraine?
    Hundreds of Students & Faculty Occupy College Campus to Fight Cuts to Public Higher Ed
    Due Process 'Impossible' In Harsh Death Sentencing Of Over 500 Muslim Brotherhood Members
    Has Anglo-American Capitalism Run Out of Steam?
    Being the "Other" in America - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (1/4)
    TRNN Debate: Should Baltimore 'Ban The Box'?
    How Fallujah Became the Iraqi Government's New Battleground
    Why I Decided to Blow the Whistle on the NSA
    NASA Climate Predictions Show Serious Threat To Humanity
    Professor Who Teaches Israel-Palestine Conflict Accuses College of Violating His Academic Freedom
    CIA and NSA Wrongdoing Requires Independent Investigation, Says Former Church Committee Staff
    Are Tuition Breaks Enough To Combat High Student Debt And Low Graduation Rates?
    Industries Across the U.S. Are Stealing Wages From Their Lowest Paid Workers
    Who In Ukraine Will Benefit From An IMF Bailout?
    NSA Recording All International Calls From U.S.
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (2/2)
    BP Gets Green Light to Drill in Gulf, But Has Safety Improved?
    Residents Still Not Drinking Tap Water Two Months After West Virginia Spill (1/2)
    Libya's Descent Into Turmoil Three Years After NATO Intervention
    From Pipelines to Peladeau - Canadian Report
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (1/2)
    Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget Strikes Back Against Austerity
    Libya Three Years Later - Chaos and Partition
    Why Was Gaddafi Overthrown?
    Should Ukraine and West Accept De Facto Crimea Joining Russia? (2/2)
    Tony Benn Saw Socialism as the Culmination of Democratization
    Why Didn't Bush/Cheney Attack Iran and Can Obama Make and Sell a Deal? - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (3/3)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi? (2/2)
    Crimea Referendum: Self Determination or Big Power Manipulation? (1/2)
    Sen. Graham: President Must Side with Openness About CIA and 9/11
    Manufacturing a Narrative for War - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (2/3)
    Protesters Hit the Streets of Brooklyn to Demand $15 Minimum Wage
    Hammer: 'Moral Bankruptcy' Behind Massive GM Recall
    White House Withholds Thousands of Documents from Senate CIA Probe
    I Grew Up Believing in Time Magazine's Version of America - Gareth Porter on RAI (1/3)
    Western European Banks Vulnerable to Ukrainian Sovereign Debt Crisis
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (2/2)
    CIA vs. Senate: Who Is Obama Protecting?
    Will Tipped Workers Get Excluded Again From Minimum Wage Hike?
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (1/2)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi?(1/2)
    TRNN Replay: A Look at Who's Poised to Become No.2 at the Fed
    How Right-Wing Nationalism Rose to Influence in Ukraine (2/2)
    Netanyahu Attacks Boycott As Campaign Enters New Phase
    Moving Towards a Police State - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (7/7)
    Fighting Reagan's Secret, Illegal Wars - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (6/7)
    Puerto Rican Independence Movement and Cuba Further Radicalized Me - Michael Ratner on RAI (5/7)
    The Butcher of Attica - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (4/7)
    MLK and a Radicalizing Moment in American History - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (3/7)

    RealNewsNetwork.com, Real News Network, Real News, Real News For Real People, IWT are trademarks and service marks of IWT.TV inc. "The Real News" is the flagship show of IWT and Real News Network.

    All original content on this site is copyright of The Real News Network.  Click here for more

    Problems with this site? Please let us know

    Linux VPS Hosting by Star Dot Hosting