It Should Be Illegal for Politicians to Buy Votes With Our Money - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
It Should Be Illegal for Politicians to Buy Votes With Our Money

This is part two in a series on what’s not in the Constitution but should be. Part one can be found here.

It ought to be illegal for politicians to use public money to buy votes. It isn’t, and here’s why.

Our Constitution is the world’s oldest and is difficult to update. A lot has changed since 1788, when the Constitution was ratified, and even our brilliant Founders could not anticipate every problem that would arise over the centuries.

For example, the Constitution does not contain a provision for recall elections, a useful legal innovation that had not yet been invented in 1788.

Another hole is the absence of a provision prohibiting politicians from using public monies to buy votes. The Framers of the Constitution thought they had solved this problem by mandating a small federal government with limited enumerated powers, but they were wrong. Gradually the federal leviathan took more and more power unto itself, until today “federal money” — a misnomer if ever there was one, because it is your money taken from you by taxes or borrowing or printing money by the Fed — is a powerful instrument of social control. For example, the federal government raised the national drinking age, overriding the judgment of the states on an issue explicitly confided to state competence by the 21st Amendment, by threatening to cut off federal highway funds if state governments didn’t raise their drinking ages to 21. Many of us might approve of keeping drunk teens off the roads, but the point is that the federal government can use its spending power to influence every aspect of our daily lives.

When government grows that big and powerful, politicians will find a way to warp power for their own ends. A good example is Joe Biden’s proposal to “forgive” $10,000 in student debt. But there are numerous examples, such as setting aside 40 percent of spending to fight climate change for “disadvantaged communities” (which not so incidentally voted overwhelmingly for Biden in the last election) or Biden’s recent commitment to pay for all of the damage due to wildfires in New Mexico, a key swing state in presidential elections. Scratch the surface of every big spending initiative under Biden, and you’ll find a politically well-connected special interest with its hand out.

The Constitution does stipulate that federal spending is supposed to be for “the general welfare,” not to pay off special interests for their votes. But in the 1936 case United States v. Butler, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress has broad discretion, which essentially amounts to the general welfare being whatever Congress says it is. Since that decision, “No federal court has struck down a spending program on the ground that it failed to promote the general welfare.”

Scratch the surface of every big spending initiative under Biden, and you’ll find a politically well-connected special interest with its hand out.

Worse yet, the Supreme Court held in 1923 that neither a state, a taxpayer, nor anyone else had “standing” to sue to challenge the misuse of tax money for improper purposes. The word “standing” does not appear in the Constitution, and for the first 150 years of our history, the courts went merrily on their way without this recent legal invention, and citizens were allowed to sue to challenge abuses of power by government officials.

The Constitution says that the federal judiciary has jurisdiction over “cases or controversies” arising under federal law, but as numerous eminent constitutional scholars have pointed out, the courts have essentially read the word “controversies” out of the document.

That makes the judges’ jobs easier, but it deprives us of an important check on the misuse of government power for improper purposes.

That leaves only one possible check that I know of against federal spending to buy votes, and that’s impeachment. Impeachment is very difficult to invoke, however, particularly when it turns on whether an official acted out of corrupt motives. Nonetheless, if the Republicans take the House in the next election, as is widely speculated that they may, they should launch an investigation into the motives behind Biden’s reckless spending, which has undeniably contributed to inflation. As Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote, sometimes sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Even the left-leaning (okay, “slanted”) Washington Post concedes that the proposals to forgive student debt “will almost certainly benefit Democrats in the short run.” The problem is proving Biden acted for political rather than legitimate reasons. Proving an improper purpose is particularly difficult when officials may have acted out of a combination of motives, some legitimate and others not so legitimate. (READ MORE from E. Donald Elliott: Recall Joe Biden)

But when people think their emails will never see the light of day, they sometimes say the damnedest things. The emails that have been circulating within the West Wing may reveal the true reasons why Biden has been giving away our money like a drunken sailor. If Republicans take control of the House in November, why not carry out a congressional investigation to expose the naked political motives behind the recent orgy of government spending, which undoubtedly has contributed to high inflation, even if it isn’t its sole cause?

But at the end of the day, it is no surprise that politicians take politics into account in making decisions, and there is very little in our system to counteract their temptation to buy votes with your money. Some of us have called for a constitutional convention to remedy this deficiency in the Constitution.

As Margaret Thatcher famously put it, the problem with socialism is that eventually the government runs “out of other people’s money.” That’s called inflation, and we are now suffering from it.

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