Friday, January 21, 2005

Bush promotes corruption, tramples states' rights, oh my!

It has been brought to Carpe Bonum's attention that in an incident involving New Jersey highway funds, the President is violating our moral and political principles. Apparently he has come down on the side of political corruption and against states' rights. Is it necessary for us to start an impeachment movement? Let's take a look.

Is making political contributions inherently corrupting?

A kerfuffle is brewing over a new contracting rule in New Jersey. In a purported effort to reduce New Jersey's "pay-to-play" system, disgraced Governor Jim McGreevey issued an executive order preventing the award of contracts above $17,500 to any firm that had contributed more than $300 to county or state parties or Gubnatorial candidates within the previous 18 months. McGreevey's executive order apparently runs afoul of federal contracting rules, so the Federal Highway Administration has cut off highway funds to New Jersey.

The New Jersey League of Municipalities has published a Q&A on the rule here.

Blogger Nathan Newman summarizes the situation thusly: Bush Admin Promotes Corruption in NJ. How subtle.

For sake of argument, let's say McGreevey's rule has the purest intent. If not for the intervention of the evil Bush Administration, would it solve any corruption problems in New Jersey? If our 30-plus year post-Watergate history of campaign finance reform is any guide, we must be highly doubtful. Isn't it more likely this rule will merely push the contributions under the table, or induce contributors to use "independent" groups to launder their contributions?

We agree that campaign money can be a corrupting influence. But instead of driving contributions underground, we favor lifting all restrictions on campaign contributions, but adding the requirement of full and immediate disclosure. If a politician's actions stray from his consitiuents' interests in favor of his contributors', the voters will know about it and respond. Politicians will regulate themselves, not accepting contributions that give the appearance of corruption, lest their political opponents use the contributions as fodder in the next campaign.

But we wonder about the McGreevey's and Newman's intent. Perhaps the intent is pure, but what if the real intent is to tilt the political playing field? Let's do a thought exercise a la the Moderate Liberal's "What If Clinton Did This" meme. Where is the executive order preventing unions from working jobs if they make political contributions? Where is the executive order preventing environmental groups from sitting on boards and comissions if they make political contributions? Would McGreevey and Newman support those?

We agree that corrupt politicians should be held accountable. But we do not support a cynical one-sided parting shot from a partisan governor being chased out of office due to his own corruption.

Is Bush's Federal Highway Administration trampling states' rights?

Newman also suggests the FHA action is a states-rights issue. Shouldn't a good conservative break with the President for violating this principle? We at Carpe Bonum clearly see that decentralized authority works better than centralized. The lower the decision making is pushed, the more effective it will be. Thus states and localities should be free to make their own contracting rules as they see fit.

But that is not the system we have for federal highway funding. There are myriad rules associated with this funding. An administration does not have leeway to simply ignore the rules it does not agree with. So we support changing the system. Let's switch to a block grant system, where good results are rewarded with more grants, and federal rule makers do not micromanage how the funds are spent.

The same principle applies to many areas of federal funding: education, public safety, business development, etc. As a states' rights advocate, does Newman support converting federal funding from micromanagement to block grants?

Yes, we should see the New Jersey situation as indicative of serious problems. Let's solve them with campaign finance disclosure and block grants.

And there is no need at this time to to impeach the President. What a relief.

UPDATE: Also noted by Kos.