HONEST GRAFT: Big Money and the American Political Process by Brooks Jackson
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HONEST GRAFT: Big Money and the American Political Process

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A timely bipartisan blast at ""perverse incentives"" now ingrained in the US electoral process--as a result of federal laws that encourage office seekers and holders alike to raise campaign funds from Political Action Committees fronting for special-interest groups. Focusing on Capitol Hill, Jackson (an investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal) offers a by-the-numbers account of how PAC money and so-called soft dollars (which are exempt from federal disclosure requirements) have aggravated rather than remedied problems supposedly solved by post-Watergate reforms. Having gained the confidence of Rep. Tony Coelho, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and his Republican counterpart, the author is able to provide damningly detailed evidence of the many ways in which the present spoils system threatens to undermine democracy. Among other undesirable outcomes, he charges, House members have become ombudsmen for donors as well as constituents. Along similar lines, Jackson concludes, personal responsiveness to industry lobbyists, wealthy individuals, labor unions, issue-oriented organizations, and other blocs that pay tribute to secure access if not influence can lead to collective irresponsibility--and lack of governance. As the author makes clear in meticulously documented case studies throughout his fluent text, the status quo makes incumbents all but invulnerable to challenge--and susceptible to financial temptation. In 1986, he observes, the well-heeled Democrats lost but one House seat while gaining three. On the darker side of the ledger, powerful legislators like Speaker Jim Wright and Fernand St. Germain (chairman of the House Banking Committee), though cleared of actionable improprieties by colleagues on the Ethics Committee, have obviously yielded to corrupt impulses. At the close, Jackson proposes a number of thoughtful reform measures, including a requirement that candidates may accept campaign contributions only from their parties or residents of their home states. In addition, he recommends that all political ads carry disclaimers so voters can ""assess the messenger with the message."" Stricter enforcement or evenhanded amendment of election statues now on the books, the author believes, would also be greatly in the public interest. A landslide winner.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Knopf