“That’s BS,” a constituent told Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) during a town hall Friday. “I don’t think you or any of the rest of the politicians want to fix” it, the Wisconsinite declared as the crowd roared with applause.
Ryan, however, was less than sympathetic to their views. He insisted instead that money will always follow power, so because Washington is where policy is made, there is little we can do to mitigate the influence of money in politics. Worse, Ryan even claimed that the rush of corporate and billionaire donations authorized by the Republican justices in Citizens United justifies enacting his draconian budget.
CONSTITUENT: You have all these different things and I look up there and I say none of them will ever work because of one single item we have in our country today, and I don’t think you or any of the rest of the politicians want to fix. It’s called “campaign financing,” which makes special interests. [Crowd applauds.] This country is bought, it’s paid for, it’s gift-wrapped. Supreme Court didn’t help us one bit when they made corporations humans, now they can dump all this money in. When you dump $16 million into your campaign fund, I own you. You can look me in the eye and say, “oh no, that’s not going to me anything to me.” That’s BS. This is what’s wrong with our country today. We need to get rid of it. Every other country in the world calls it bribery. We call it campaign financing.
RYAN: The point I would make is so long as so much money is going to be handled and run through government, through Washington, there will always be an attempt to influence it. So to me the best antidote is not give all of our money and our power to Washington, keep it for ourselves and our communities so there’s less influence-peddling there in the first place. [...] Even under the so-called new clean law that Russ Feingold wrote, even with the Supreme Court ruling that affected parts of that law. So let’s try and have more transparency so you see where the money’s going, let’s not destroy the political parties which are more [inaudible] to elected officials. Right now you have all these groups that pop up and then they go down come the election cycle.
Ryan’s argument is both roundabout and silly. Rather than fighting to remove the corrupting influence of money on politics, he thinks we should simply pack up our bags and accept draconian cuts to Medicare and Medicaid — because such programs are doomed to be corrupted by the very donations Ryan’s Supreme Court allies authorized in Citizens United. It’s a bit like saying that, rather than banning drunk driving, we should simply tear up all the nation’s roads.
Moreover, he may call for shrinking Washington in order to shrink the influence of campaign money, but even under Ryan’s own budget, the government still spends more than $3.5 trillion. With a budget that size, under our current campaign finance law, the Koch Brothers can spend a few million dollars and get a fantastic return on investment. In modern America, it is impossible to achieve Ryan’s “antidote” of having a national government small enough that those with money wouldn’t be tempted to influence it.
It’s worth noting that, while Ryan also touts transparency as an alternative to keeping big money out of politics, he hardly has credibility on this point either. He was given an opportunity to actually vote on requiring more disclosure, he voted against the DISCLOSE Act. If Ryan now wants groups like Crossroads GPS to be forced to disclose their multi-million-dollar donors, wonderful. If he’s simply using this as a rhetorical sleight of hand to justify unlimited campaign funding from billionaires, as many Republicans are now doing, shame on him.