I attended a meeting at a coffee shop with Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa when I was his constituent a few years ago. This is the Chuck Grassley that is internet famous for his Twitter feed.
It was a totally informal meeting, and I was a bit shocked he was really there. About 20 of us and him sat and stood around a big table, and we could ask him anything we wanted.
I wanted to ask something – ANYthing – so the first thing that popped into my head was term limits.
I knew how stupid this question was as it came from my mouth.
I was asking about term limits to a Senator who has been a Senator longer than I’ve been alive; he’s been a Senator since 1981.
I asked as nicely as I could what his thoughts were on term limits, and he took no offense to it. In fact, it was very easy to see why he’s a politician when I got to meet him; he’s quite charming in person. When he took my question, he made it feel like it was just me and him in the room; his voice and body language are pitch perfect for making someone think, “wow, he cares about me!”
So, I asked my question.
The senior Senator’s answer: he used to like the idea when he was younger, but not anymore. (Not exactly a surprise, right?)
He said he stopped liking the idea of term limits because lobbyists don’t have term limits.
I thought it was a fairly smart answer while I stood there. It sounded smart, it was a fact I had not previously considered.
On second thought, I think I was only impressed because it was an unexpected answer.
If I could reply to him now, I’d say, “Even if the same lobbyist sticks around for decades, wouldn’t it be better to cycle in more people, so that there’s more of a chance that some of those people would be immune to the lobbyist? At a minimum, in a Senator’s last term, they should be fairly immune to lobbyist donations to a Senator’s reelection campaign… although that doesn’t stop a lobbyist from committing outright bribery.”
I’d be curious what he’d think about that.
I’d be curious what precisely a lobbyist can do that a new Senator has no defense against, but that an over-30-year Senator can apparently handle without issue.
I have my doubts that there really is a difference.
I’d also be curious if corruption in politics has been studied before, and to what degree. For instance, have US House and Senate members ever admitted to accepting bribes – or other shenanigans – and then have a researcher look at when this happened and determined what year of a House/Senate member’s term it was done in?
Maybe, on average, Senators really do take more bribes and can be more easily pushed around in their first 1 – 6 years.
But maybe they don’t.
This wikipedia article may be a good place to start the hunt… although that’s just a list of people convicted of it. I bet there’s a lot more people that got away with corruption without any repercussions.