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Close, but no cigar

William Raspbery comes oh so near to revelation, before backing off. He analogizes the perceived corruption in NCAA sports to the perceived corruption in Washington, arguing that the only way to reform the system is to "separate winning and money."

There's some merit there. The corruption in college sports comes from the fact that the stakes are so high. When a winning program can potentially bring in millions of dollars in cash and television exposure, you're always going to have an incentive to cut corners to win. So the way to reform college sports is to eliminate those millions of dollars. Stop signing the television deals and the endorsement deals.

But after working this through, Raspberry adds:

Now suppose it's the case that politics conflict not only with grass-roots citizen involvement but also with the integrity and ideals we like to espouse -- and suppose that conflict is inescapable. What are we to do? Reducing the stakes is not an option. Does it follow from Loughran's analysis that reform is impossible -- that moneyed interests will find a way around the new legislation and that reform will be proved a delusion once again?
But stop and ask why? Why can't we reduce the stakes?

In fact, that's exactly what we need to do. Reduce the stakes. No alumni booster is going to buy an illiterate high school dropout, no college is going to admit him, if there's no reward at the end. Similarly, no corporation, no rich special interest, is going to buy a candidate if there's no reward at the end. In politics, the reward is legislation. A simple truth: if there are no regulations, there can be no loopholes. No loopholes means nothing to be bought. What's the point of bribing a politician if the politician can't give you anything? Developers can't buy zoning board members if there are no zoning boards. Energy companies can't pay to write the government's energy policy if the government doesn't legislate an energy policy. Accounting firms can't buy influence over accounting regulations if the government isn't writing accounting regulations.

Unfortunately, Raspberry botches the argument, turning it into just another call for bigger government. After concluding that you can't reduce the stakes, his proposal is "some combination of private contributions fully disclosed, public funding of campaigns and free TV ads." The worst of all worlds. Legislation,or at least access, being bought, government picking winners and losers, and more political advertising on television.


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