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Buying Favor: Why Congress Depends On Funding From Special Interests

2200 words - 9 pages

There is a problem with Congress. The previous sentence summarizes the collective sentiment of the general public concerning the legislative branch of the federal government. A 2010 Gallop poll revealed that over eighty-nine percent of Americans have no confidence in Congress (Lessig 2). It is theorized that Congress is so far out of favor because it has been unable to resolve the nation’s most important issues, such as Medicare, Medicaid, immigration reform, and the growing budget deficit, due to seemingly trivial reasons. Some theorize this lack of significant legislative action is due to growing partisanship between the system’s dominate political parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. According to Mark Brewer, “Politicians…are more likely to support their party and oppose the other party today than any other time since the 1950s (219).” Another hypothesis explaining the lack of legislative action by Congress is the special interest theory. According to the theory’s advocates, the Congress has not accomplished much because of the institution’s dependency on large-scale campaign contributions; and these donors would rather there be little regulation or regulations supporting their specific industry. To support this hypothesis, Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig authored Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It in 2011. The book details the effect of campaign funding by special interests and its effect on congressmembers and government policies.
Within Republic, Lost, Lessig attempts to draw interest to the issue he believes is the reason for the federal government’s inactivity: dependence corruption. He argues congressmembers have become unresponsive to the will of the people because special interests have compromised their attention through campaign funding. As Lessig explains, this is not the first time the United States has had to contend with governmental corruption. During the early 1900s, “powerful special interests” had infiltrated the federal government through monetary and service bribery (Lessig 3). The American public, who was rightfully incensed by the situation, voiced their collective opinion during the 1912 presidential election. During that election, two candidates well-known for flushing out corruption within their respective parties declared their candidacy and opposition to the incumbent Republican president, Howard Taft. One of these individuals were former Republican president and founder of the Progressive Party Theodore Roosevelt, who had limited himself to two terms in office, but became dissatisfied with the Republican Party’s inability to uphold his progressive ideals. The other candidate was Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey, “a small government, pro-federalist reformer” running for the Democratic Party (Lessig 3). To the surprise of the establishment, these two self-described progressives garnered 69.2% of the popular vote; indicated the...

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