The Blast of the Big Spenders

The primary populist concern with “money in politics” is conspiratorial: “they” will grab total control because “they” buy the politicians.

The cries on the political left that The Evil Koch Brothers™ spend money, thereby “corrupting OUR democracy,” have become ubiquitous.

The fact that the left has its own billionaires, and that they give far more money to their causes than the Kochs do to theirs? Conveniently left out of the hysteria.

But the real case against money in politics has almost nothing to do with buying politicians.

Which leads us to the biggest problem with money in politics: most of it is a waste.

Binyamin Appelbaum, writing Tuesday in The New York Times, reports on the conclusion of a number of economists that “buying elections is economically inefficient.” Appelbaum quotes a major donor who posits why that’s the case: “politicians don’t stay bought.”

Yes indeed, politicians are a tricky investment.

Still, giving patterns suggest contributions are more often intended to advance one’s beliefs and values, than to purchase or rent the allegiance of (or protection from) an elected official.

When we switch from spending money on politicians to spending money on causes, especially initiative and referendum campaigns, the situation looks a bit different. You don’t buy anyone. You persuade voters. Or not.

I’ve seen many a well-funded initiative fall because citizens just wouldn’t have it. Businesses and lobbyists and unions all hate term limits, and have often outspent supporters. But, barring deception, term limits usually win with voters.

Who can’t be bought even for a while.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Stupid Before Congress

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber has had a big influence on American life, much of it “behind the scenes.” He helped put together RomneyCare in Massachusetts, then Obamacare at the federal level. And he made a curious case for abortion that was picked up by Steven Levitt and made famous in Freakonomics.

But he wasn’t summoned before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee, yesterday, to talk about abortion. His boastings, in public, that the Affordable Care Act had been designed to deceive caught congressional attention.

And referring to voters as “stupid” doesn’t sit well with politicians — maybe because they’re living evidence.

Gruber started with some newfound humility. He had been bragging. In truth, he wasn’t that important to the process.

None of this was very convincing.

His explanations for his too-honest statements? Less than satisfactory: he chalked it all up to a spoken “typo.”

More entertainingly, when repeatedly asked whether he would give the committee his work product relating to his Health and Human Services contracts, he reiterated one simple answer: the committee should “take it up with my council.”

“You’ve been paid by the American taxpayer,” stated Rep. Jason Chaffetz, with escalating frustration. “Will you or will you not provide that information to this committee?”

But what was the Utah representative expecting?

Full disclosure?



A straight answer?

Yeah, yeah, I know . . . talk to Gruber’s lawyer.

Even with the stonewalling, I think we’ve already seen enough of Mr. Gruber’s “work product.”

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Gun Nuts

“Gun violence is as serious as the Ebola virus is being represented in the media,” says Beloit, Wisconsin, Police Chief Norm Jacobs, “and we should fight it using the tools that we’ve learned from our health providers.”

Hmmmm, I immediately wondered what tools used against Ebola could possibly be used against “gun violence.” Will police don Hazmat suits? Should we quarantine criminals who shoot and kill people? (Well, more on that shortly.)

No, the Beloit Police Department is launching a new program asking city residents to voluntarily permit officers to search their homes for guns.

According to Wisconsin Public Radio, Chief Jacobs wants to “encourage people to think about gun violence as an infectious disease like Ebola, and a home inspection like a vaccine to help build up the city’s immune system.”

Yes. He actually said that.

Perhaps the chief is a little overwhelmed. More than 100 murders have been committed this year in Wisconsin using a gun. That’s a problem, for sure — whether a gun is involved or not, though. But searching the homes of law-abiding folks isn’t any sort of solution.

What seems most statistically significant is the fact that 93 percent of those accused of committing these murders have a prior arrest record, as do the 94 percent of Badger State victims of gun violence.

Pretending that the problem is not criminals, but, instead, firearms “hiding” in the homes of the law-abiding? A gross misdiagnosis.

And deadly . . . stupid.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

How Earnest Is The IRS?

Sometimes those who wield power over us seem less than honest about whether they’re following their own professed rules, including rules mandated by law.

The latest example comes to us courtesy of the watchdog group Cause of Action, which filed a Freedom of Information request for correspondence between the IRS and the White House about tax returns. The correspondence may reveal something about, say, political targeting of  taxpayers by IRS and/or Obama administration officials and/or others.

The IRS admits that it has more than 2,000 documents related to the request. It has been ordered by a court to release them. But the agency refuses to do so, citing confidentiality requirements. Yes, Gentle Reader. Because taxpayer information must be kept confidential, no information relevant to whether confidentiality requirements have been violated may be divulged.

How about releasing the communiqués after scrubbing any taxpayer addresses or Social Security Numbers? I mean, if taxpayer confidentiality is a genuine concern.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest either joshingly or earnestly assures The Hill that the Obama administration has been “very rigorous” in enforcing proper communication between the IRS and the White House. I fear that his knowledge of the 2,000 documents — and of the Obama administration’s record of truth-telling — is not exhaustive. . . .

How likely is this obstructionism motivated by concern for taxpayers?

I bet it’s motivated by concern to protect the posteriors of bureaucrats and politicians.

I salute all those refusing to let the stonewallers get away with it.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Townhall: Oh, Brother

Over at, the politics of helping the poor meets some realities, including the politics of race and the adjudication of rights. Click on over. Then come back here for more reading.

Video: Time Capsule (The Draft)

This is a blast from the past. Cut to the 5:33 mark to begin the interview proper.

Thirty years ago, on this date, Paul Jacob was arrested by three FBI agents for not registering for the draft.

Keep Your Money

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

So says Michigan State Representative Tom McMillin to President Barack Obama.

In response to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and its aftermath, and then the non-indictment of the officer involved, and its aftermath, President Obama requested that Congress fund a new $263 million Justice Department spending package. Part of the spending, a total of $75 million, would put federal dollars toward outfitting 50,000 local policemen with body cameras.

Rep. Tom McMillin, a Rochester Hills Republican, has introduced House Bill 5970 to require all gun-toting state and local police in Michigan to wear body cameras. The legislation would mandate that video footage be destroyed within weeks except in cases where police use force, make an arrest, a complaint is filed or a request is made by a citizen.

McMillin thanks Obama for supporting the idea of body cameras, but the state rep argues that “providing body cameras to state and local police officers in Michigan isn’t a proper role of the federal government,” adding: “We could figure out how to pay for it here in Michigan.”

“Frankly, the feds have put me and my kids in enough debt,” he says, “I wouldn’t want them adding to it.”

Great point. Plus, the federal government really doesn’t have to pay for every single thing that happens in this world.

I’ve advocated the cameras, calling them “justice vision.” Where tried, the video system has served to protect citizens and police and improve public confidence.

But doing the right thing in our hometowns doesn’t require a Washington bribe.

That’s Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.