Why There’s “Money in Politics”

The recent public corruption indictment of John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, leader of the IBEW 98 labor union, Philadelphia City Council member Bobby Henon, and a slew of other IBEW leaders shows a troubling trend of union money being used to influence—even bribe—elected officials.  While Philadelphia has campaign contribution limits, such laws are basically meaningless for those trying to bend the power of government to help themselves.

Indeed, the indictment shows that Johnny Doc used union resources to push for the passage of the Philadelphia “soda tax” to punish the Teamsters (whose members distribute soda and other beverages taxed under that scheme) for criticizing him. While some argue that the soda tax is still good policy—despite studies showing it has failed in all its goals—what’s troubling is that public policy can be used in this way.

The only way to get money out of politics is to stop politicians from giving out other people’s money.


That is, the fact that union leaders can use their influence in government to destroy their enemies explains why there's so much incentive to influence government.

Using government to further your own interests isn’t limited to corrupt union officials. Consider these recent policy proposals in the energy realm.

  • Producers of nuclear power have advocated for a billion-dollar nuclear bailout tax to subsidize the industry; or at least, impose higher prices on electric bills to hurt their competitors.
  • Gov. Wolf will once again propose a natural gas severance tax—this one coming at an effective 4.5 percent tax rate, on top of the “Impact Fee” and every other tax paid by gas drillers—to back $4.5 billion in new debt, all to fund projects for political allies.   
  • Companies profiting off solar power are behind a push to increase the mandate for solar power—requiring that 10 percent of electricity come from solar power, up from the 0.25 percent which is currently mandated.

Many good-governance groups complain about the amount of “money in politics.” But when politicians have the power to pick winners and losers, money in politics will naturally follow. Politics determines who gets billions in subsidies, which industries get mandates worth billions in profits, and who pays billions in punitive tax hikes.

The only way to get money out of politics is to stop politicians from giving out other people's money.