The Incumbency Protection Racket

I’ve tended to be a fan of disclosure of political donors. Then I read this:

The reality is that public disclosure serves the interests of incumbents running for re-election by discouraging support for challengers. Here’s how it works.

A challenger seeks a contribution from a person known to support candidates of the challenger’s party. The potential supporter responds: “I’m glad you’re running. I agree with you on almost everything. But I can’t support you because I cannot risk getting my business crosswise with the incumbent who is likely to be re-elected.”

Sometimes he adds that he has matters pending before a federal agency. Or that she has been working with the incumbent on legislation that will benefit their company. Or that he has a government grant pending.

I heard these responses literally dozens of times in my campaign in Oregon. Sometimes I was told that someone on my opponent’s staff had called with a reminder that supporting me was not a good idea. Once the call came while I was having lunch with the person from whom I was soliciting support.

The author is James Huffman a law professor at Lewis & Clark law school and was the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Oregon in 2010. He was the challenger and he lost.

Frankly I never, perhaps naively, considered that incumbents would use the information from donor lists to strong-arm potential contributors. I guess it’s just another arrow in the quiver of incumbency.

This is one of the ways that big government worms its way into the fabric of society. Business dependence on government largess begets support for maintenance of the status quo. Backs get mutually scratched and incumbency is assured, challengers are a threat to economic success. In the end, we have sclerosis in both politics and the economy as competing ideas and business competitors are snuffed out by government money.

As you consider the various proposals for fiscal reform, keep this in mind. Any program that doesn’t address the size and reach of government, that doesn’t attempt to limit its influence throughout the economy and perhaps even suggests that it ought to be larger than its historical average represents a plan that will not root out the evil that James Hamilton engaged.

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