Posted by: Jeff | September 29, 2009

Eh, Good Point

So just the other day I put up a post agreeing with Andrew Samwick that it would be better if U.S. Senators were not allowed to take donations from anyone who is not a member of their constituency. Samwick’s post, in turn, had been a reaction to an older post by Ezra Klein. Today Klein completed the circle by getting back to Samwick’s idea, and raising a problem.

Parochialism. Baucus might represent Montana, but as Chairman of the Finance Committee, he’s legislating on behalf of America. If he wanted to anger some of the conservative interests in his state and take a more national view, he could, in theory, raise national money to fund his reelection campaign and defend himself against state-based interests. Removing that option seems likely to ensure total capture by local powerbrokers, which may indeed be worse, or at least more incoherent, than capture by national interests.

In retrospect I should have spotted this, given that I had also complained about the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the Senate, whereby a state with a small population wields just as much clout (2 Senators) as a state with a much larger population. As one of Klein’s commenters points out, any change which increases parochialism will simply exacerbate that antidemocratic dynamic. Having to look for money from donors outside of their state probably forces senators to take a more cosmopolitan view towards national affairs than they would otherwise have to. Which strikes me as most likely a good thing. Cosmopolitanism enforced by major corporate and business interests may not be as good as cosmopolitanism enforced by national grassroots donations, but I suppose it’s better than nothing.

Of course, if the Constitution were amended to restructure the Senate’s representation in accordance with population, then limiting donations to constituencies might not be so bad. But that change is even less likely than a change to laws governing the Senate’s campaign donations.

One of my favorite quips about politics – I’m 99% sure it’s from Mamet’s play November – is that there are no such things as solutions, only different arrangements of problems. Yep.

UPDATE – Matt Yglesias thinks it might still be a good idea.

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