Pearls of Wisdom: Political Access Shouldn’t be for Sale

In a recent Bloomberg article a member of the Committee on Ways and Means of the United States House of Representatives, Mike Kelly (R-PA) was quoted saying that he and his colleagues “need to hear from people who are in that business” to get a clearer picture of how to tax carried interest.

The primary job of the Ways and Means Committee is to deal with tax policy. As you might guess, this is an area of some interest to many Americans, and it shows. Kevin Brady, the chairperson of Ways and Means raised roughly six million dollars for the last election, which is significantly above average for a member of the House of Representatives. He and other members of that committee raise an inordinate amount of money because people want access to them and to the formation of American tax policy.

Access can range from a couple of minutes at a reception (for a few thousand dollars), to a couple of hours at a dinner shared with a few other people (for someone who can bundle a few tens of thousands of dollars), to an extensive working relationship with the staff who actually drafts the legislation (for those who raise or donate hundreds of thousand of dollars over the course of years). The people who can afford the most access then wield the most influence over formation of tax policy.

It is true that before the House Ways and Means Committee writes tax rules that deal with a small number of very highly paid, very wealthy people, they need to hear from those people. But those shouldn’t be the only people they hear from. And they should not only want to hear from constituents when those constituents are also donors. That is part of the difference between the very wealthy people, and the rest of America. When they are considering writing laws to change people’s lives, there are certain people that they need to hear from, and certain people who are left to fend for themselves.

That isn’t right. Our country will work better for all of us (including most of the wealthy people) if all of us have the same level of access to our lawmakers. We need to reform our campaign finance system.

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