POLITICS

Obama, Romney, Cronyism, and Reform

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

Mitt Romney is hitting the crony capitalism charge hard. Yesterday, he deployed Va. Atty. Gen. and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli to whack Obama on this. Liberal journalists on the phone had a question. Benjy Sarlin at TPM reports:

Mitt Romney’s campaign kicked off a new effort on Monday accusing President Obama of engaging in “crony capitalism” that rewards people who donated to his campaign. But when asked to name one single policy reform Romney would implement that would prevent such corruption, a top surrogate demurred.

Sarlin had a few potential reforms in mind:

  • Restricting the appointment of bundlers to top jobs.
  • Generally keeping donors “from affecting policy.”
  • Keeping Obama’s [notoriously porous] restrictions on lobbyists in policy jobs,
  • or keeping Obama’s [equally porous] restrictions on all entrants from the private sector working on issues directly affecting their former employers.
  • Passing the DISCLOSE Act.

I think the top two ideas are good in general. I agree with Sarlin’s suggestion that Romney ought to be proposing ethics reforms like this in order to give his cronyism attack some teeth. I’ve proposed some in the past: bar congressmen, Senators, and cabinet secretaries from doing any post-employment lobbying; make campaign finance disclosure instant; require lawmakers to disclose all lobbying contacts, even with non-registered lobbyists.

Also, yesterday I agreed with Dave Weigel’s point that Romney probably ought to disclose all his bundlers.

So, yeah, Sarlin has a point.

But at bottom, there’s an easy answer Cuccinelli should have given, and Romney should give it too:

If we don’t want government subsidies going to reward the politically connected, we need to end government subsidies. The only system that doesn’t play favorites is the free market. The only way to get rid of corruption in high places is to get rid of the high places [h/t to the late Timothy Wheeler].

P.S. Sarlin makes a common misstep in his post, when he writes this: “Obama, by contrast, does not allow lobbyists to raise money for his campaign.” That’s not true by a common understanding of the word “lobbyist.” Obama, as I’ve written before, has non-registered lobbyists as bundlers and donors — that is, people who engage in activities legally defined as “lobbying activities.” They are legally required to register if such activities take up 20 percent of their time, but that law is basically never enforced.

P.P.S. Come see me talk about cronyism today at the Heritage Foundation at noon.

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