Senator John McCain has made corruption in Washington a major
campaign issue. His campaign finance reform legislation supposedly
addresses the problem of the “special interests,” those Washington
lobbyists who attempt to influence legislation by financially helping
sympathetic politicians get reelected. Because that reform bill would
seriously hamper advocacy organizations like the Christian Coalition,
the National Rifle Association, and various anti-abortion groups from
participating in election campaigns, it has created serious opposition
among Republicans.

The real problem, of course, is how do we get corruption out of
Washington? The answer is fairly simple: by getting Washington out of
our lives. Take, for example, the income tax. Through the IRS, the
federal bureaucracy has become our financial partner. It wants to know
everything about how we earn and spend our money. It wants to know how
much and to whom we give our charity. It wants to know how many people
are dependent on us, their ages, their relationship to us. It wants to
know about our careers or professions, what kind of expenses we have. Do
we drive a lot? Do we entertain a lot? Do we work at home or at an
office? Do we pay salaries to other people? It wants to know how much
interest we pay on our mortgages. In short, Washington has intruded in
our lives in a way that drives many of us up a wall.

That’s just Washington’s intrusion into our individual lives. But if
you own a company, the intrusion can be stifling. There’s OSHA, the EPA,
the FDA, the IRS, the SEC, the FTC, the FCC, plus rules and regulations
coming from other agencies. How is campaign finance reform going to
change any of that? The implication is that congressmen will vote their
consciences and not for the economic and social interests of their
constituents. But that’s not why citizens send men and women to
Congress. Representatives are supposed to represent their constituents.
They’re not sent to Washington to exercise the narcissism of their own

Senator McCain speaks of breaking the Iron Triangle of money,
politics, and elections. That, supposedly, will nullify the power of the
special interests to influence legislators. But what is a “special
interest”? It is the interest of an individual, a group of individuals,
or a company to plead its case before legislators who have the power to
assist or destroy. For example, if a bunch of liberal congressmen were
not out to destroy the second amendment rights of citizens to own
firearms, there would be no need for the NRA to lobby the “special
interests” of its members.

It is true that many other lobbyists seek favors from government. But
that’s only because the government has gotten itself into the business
of granting favors. For example, the producers of Ethanol want a subsidy
from the government in order to be able to sell this gasoline additive
to the public at a reasonable price. Ethanol, which is produced from
corn, reduces emissions pollution and is a substitute for fossil fuels.
With oil prices going through the roof, many argue that it’s a good idea
to subsidize the production of Ethanol. But Senator McCain voted against
that subsidy. He voted against the Ethanol lobby.

Then there’s the National Endowment for the Arts. Do you have a new
experimental dance group that needs a government grant? Simply apply.
Are you an avant-garde artist who needs money? (And, by the way, who
doesn’t?) Apply. Does it pay to have some pull somewhere to grease the
process? Of course it does. The Endowment is a pile of taxpayer money
surrounded by a bunch of artists and writers who want some. Those who
give out the money are well known in the cultural community. They are
human beings. They can be reached. Are they corrupt? They do have their
tastes and they do have their friends. That doesn’t make them corrupt,
does it?

Are there special interests trying to keep conservatives from closing
down the Endowment? Of course there are, and they will try to influence
legislators who will vote to keep the Endowment going. Are these special
interests corrupt for pleading their case? Are the congressmen corrupt
for listening to them?

There was a company that wanted to sell high-tech equipment to the
Chinese Communist government. They donated big bucks to the Clinton-Gore
campaign, and they got permission to make the sale. That’s corruption.
It occurred at the highest level of government. If there had been a
campaign finance law that prevented such direct donations, is it not
possible that another way would have been found to grease the process?
As long as there are people who wish to do dishonest things, there will
be corruption.

But there are plenty of legitimate and honest “special interests”
that have a right to inform their legislators of what their cause may
be, and how it can be harmed, benefited or left alone by a piece of
legislation. Our form of government requires its citizens to be alert
concerning the doings of their lawmakers. Bad law is worse than no law.
No law permits good people to do good. Bad law forces good people to do

Corruption in big government is inevitable, because whatever it does
involves huge sums of money. And as long as legislators keep voting for
more and more government expenditures, there will be plenty of special
interests trying to get their fair share. For example, probably the
largest river of government cash flow in the nation goes to public
education. And that is not the result of accident. It is the result of
the work of the nation’s leading special interest, the National
Education Association, which has been lobbying politicians on every
level of government since World War I.

The NEA finally gained free access to the Treasury of the United
States with the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in
1965. It lobbied hard in Congress to get that legislation passed, and it
had the help of President Johnson. The result has been the flow of
billions of federal dollars into public education, causing a serious
decline in reading skills, math skills, and increasing frustration and
violence among children. There are now over four million children on
Ritalin in American schools. Literacy is at an all-time low. The
Department of Education reported in October 1993 that 90 million
American adults can barely read and write.

In 1967, Sam Lambert, executive secretary of the NEA, proclaimed:
“NEA will become a political power second to no other special interest
group. … NEA will organize this profession from top to bottom into
logical operational units that can move swiftly and effectively and with
power unmatched by any other organized group in the nation.” Since that
statement was made, the NEA has created an army of professional
political activists, and it has spent millions of dollars in election
campaigns at all levels: school boards, municipal elections, state
legislative contests and, of course, congressional and presidential
elections. It has become the largest bloc of delegates at the Democratic
National Convention.

Now, that’s a special interest if there ever was one, and Senator
McCain’s reform will hardly put a dent in that political machine,
financed mainly by forced teacher contributions. There isn’t another
lobby in the country that can match the NEA in its sheer power. The
public education establishment’s main goal is to increase the flow of
taxpayer cash in its direction from the federal treasury and the
treasuries of the 50 states. It has been enormously successful in
pursuit of that goal. What congressman will dare vote against more money
for education and hope to be reelected? That’s the kind of power that
has corrupted Washington, and until we get the government out of the
education business, and also out of so many other businesses, we shall
have to live with this corruption for the foreseeable future.

Samuel L. Blumenfeld is the author of eight books on education,
including his definitive study of the National Education Association as
a political power: “NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education.” His books
are available on To order his popular reading instruction
program, “Alpha-Phonics,” call 208-322-4440.

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