CAPITAL CORRUPTION: The New Attack on American Democracy by Amitai Etzioni

CAPITAL CORRUPTION: The New Attack on American Democracy

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The post-Watergate impulse toward campaign financing reform resulted in the creation of Political Action Committees, or PACs--and now George Washington U. sociologist Etzioni (An Immodest Agenda) joins the chorus denouncing them as the new incarnation of political evil. By comparison with New Yorker writer Elizabeth Drew's Politics and Money, Etzioni's treatment is long-winded and preachy. Decrying media attention to sex and money in connection with individual politicians, Etzioni thinks he's doing something new by turning instead to the quite legal methods of buying political outcomes through PAC-directed campaign contributions, as well as through inflated honorariums and other fees for legislators' speeches and appearances. Multiple PACs--representing oil and gas companies, dairy interests, the medical establishment, etc.--channel millions into congressional coffers, not to buy any particular vote but to influence a whole slew of them. So, despite opinion-poll majorities in favor of gun control or hospital cost containment, legislation is impossible to pass in these areas: the money is on the other side, and it costs a lot of money to get elected. New York Senator Alphonse D'Amato, for example, started raising funds for his 1986 reelection campaign in 1983; he says he wants to limit his campaign to small contributions. Presidential candidate Ernest Hollings made $92,000 in speaking fees in one year--and none of it campaign money. OK, so what else is new? Etzioni adds a little academic touch by distinguishing, on both political and economic grounds, between special-interest PACs and constituency-based groups like the Business Roundtable, the AFL-CIO, and farmers' and consumers' groups. PACs, heavily weighted toward conservative causes, don't facilitate public debate, he contends, they forestall it. Also, their demands are intrinsically more inflationary, since they represent far fewer people and completely irrational pricing policies. Thus, PACs threaten Etzioni's oft-stated goal of reindustrialization through government-business-labor cooperation. HIS reform recommendations are no more unusual, finally, than his diagnosis: partial public funding of campaigns, tighter controls over contributions, special FBI enforcement, etc. This message is delivered amid bold-faced paragraph headings, copious italics, rhetorical questions, and numbered points. More skillful writers can do far more with less.

Pub Date: March 26th, 1984
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich