Matt Stoller: Lobbying Used to Be a Crime: A Review of Zephyr Teachout’s New Book on the Secret History of Corruption in America

Naked Capitalism has the book review Matt Stoller: Lobbying Used to Be a Crime: A Review of Zephyr Teachout’s New Book on the Secret History of Corruption in America.  The review concludes with the following paragraphs:

Americans broadly speaking would probably agree with Teachout’s interpretation of corruption, rather than that of those who authored Citizens United. Americans see the revolving door of lobbying and believe Congress and the government as institutions are corrupt. They have, in other words, a structural sense of what corruption means. It is not just bribery, it is a set of incentives that are not per se illegal, just unethical. Teachout shows, through painstaking historical research, that this popular conception of corruption is actually far more consistent with the intent of the Constitutional framers than the odd and anomalous John Roberts-led Hobbesian majority.

Corruption in America is a book worth reading, almost as much as Teachout is a person worth following. Reorganizing America is a large task, and many of us are seeking to do that. But first, in some sense, we must reorganize our own thinking, trapped as many of us are in Robert Bork’s nightmarish Hobbesian world of hopelessness. This book will help us take that first critical step.

One of the most surprising things I found in the book review was this discussion of the ‘Yazoo’ controversy.

The first significant test of the revolutionary anti-corruption doctrine was the 1795 ‘Yazoo’ controversy, when a Georgia legislature sold a massive land grant to speculators who had, as it turns out, bribed lawmakers. Voters turned out the legislature at the next election, and the newly elected lawmakers voided the deal. The case generated widespread controversy and went to the Supreme Court, where in 1810, in Fletcher v Peck,the court said that the sanctity of the contract must be upheld even in the face of corruption. In a nod to today’s logic of brutal tolerance of corruption, the court argued that corruption may be problematic, but there was nothing the state could do about it. This was a highly consequential decision, and prioritized contract rights over anti-corruption.

This just so violates my sense of justice.  I have always believed that if you agree to something under duress, then you cannot be held to that agreement.  Although, come to think about it, we hear of violations of such principles often enough.  A criminal defendant can and frequently is convicted on the basis of a confession that was admittedly coerced.

Why I even think this was mentioned in our Constitution as the Fifth Amendment.

No person shall be … nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.

The issue is one of being compelled.  It is forbidden.

Here is a link to purchasing the book Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United.

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