Why Americans Think Politics Is Corrupt

Voters don't trust politicians who take the side of big business.

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After living in Massachusetts, I left the Northeast for the first time to go to grad school at the University of Minnesota. While I lived in the Twin Cities, the Democratic Farmer-Labor Gov. Wendell Anderson was re-elected to a second term. At the beginning of his new term, the governor created a crisis in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes by making one of his money guys a member of his cabinet.

Coming from Massachusetts and being used to the hurly burly of Bay State politics, I found this scandal surprising. After all, back home there would have been an uproar if the governor hadn't appointed his financial contributor to the cabinet. But Scandinavians brought a good government ethic to Minnesota. Massachusetts is Massachusetts. In the Bay State political deals are sealed with cash. The last three speakers of the Massachusetts House of Representatives have all been convicted of corruption.

[See 8 politicos who survived scandals.]

In the last couple of decades, American politics has become a lot more like Massachusetts politics and a lot less like Minnesota's. There was a time, long ago and far away when people frowned on the appearance of impropriety. Now politicians don't even seem to care about actual impropriety.

Political pursuit of the almighty dollar is why voters have so little trust in Congress to do the right thing. As a radio talk show host, I hear over and over again from my listeners that legislators are in the tank with big business. I don't share this skepticism since I have worked with many men and women of great integrity as a political consultant. But perception is reality in politics and as long as people believe that politicians are trading their votes for cash, Americans won't have any confidence in Congress. And in a democracy, the process will only work if the people trust the system.

[Read Washington Whispers: Public Blames Congress, Not Obama, For Sour Economy]

The only effective way to restore public trust in politics is to get big money out of the system. The best solution would be public funding of campaigns. But that's not realistic now since the Supreme Court opened the financial floodgates last year in its infamous Citizens' United decision. Because of the Court's ruling, voters will be at the receiving end of a hurricane of violently negative campaign ads over the next year which will destroy whatever is left of public trust in government.

The next best remedy to restored trust in government is to force the networks and individual TV and radio stations to give free time to political candidates. The networks receive billions of dollars in federal freebies every fiscal year since stations do not have to pay for the right to use public airwaves. It's time for the media to make the same kinds of sacrifices that working families are making to keep this country strong.

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  • Read about why public financing for elections is may be finished
  • Read how current campaign finance law could give anti-tax activists Grover Norquist more power.