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Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United Hardcover – September 29, 2014
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At last someone has written a book that puts a name to what is perhaps the most significant factor shaping American politics today: corruption. In a masterly work of scholarship, Zephyr Teachout…traces the history of American approaches to what was long considered a mortal threat to the republic. She demonstrates that recent jurisprudence, which has whittled down the definition of corruption to encompass only a contractual exchange between briber and public official, represents nothing less than ‘a revolution in political theory.’… Teachout calls for a return to the Framers’ preference for across-the-board rules to help prevent corrupt acts before they are perpetrated, rather than relying on punishment after the fact. (Sarah Chayes Wall Street Journal)
In Corruption in America, an eloquent, revealing, and sometimes surprising historical inquiry, Teachout convincingly argues that corruption, broadly understood as placing private interests over the public good in public office, is at the root of what ails American democracy. (David Cole New York Review of Books)
Teachout’s book is filled with colorful anecdotes about Americans getting away with all sorts of chicanery…Corruption in America shows that it is possible to establish and maintain governmental institutions that shield us from our worst instincts. This was the goal of Madison and his peers, and it could still be achieved with a better public-election finance system, which could be constitutional under Citizens United if the system did not restrict private donations. Democrats who will be looking for a fresh agenda in 2016 should read Teachout’s book carefully. (Max Ehrenfreund Washington Post)
A book that merits the large readership it may get…Teachout’s narrative spans the history of the United States from its beginnings through Chief Justice John Roberts’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC. (Scott McLemee Inside Higher Ed)
Zephyr Teachout argues that recent court decisions―and a lax attitude toward corruption―are putting private interests over the public good. Teachout complains of the revolving-door practice of congressional representatives retiring and becoming lobbyists. She says the policy breeds ethical conflicts and tainted decision-making. (Carl Campanile New York Post)
Teachout’s beautifully written and powerful book exposes a simple but profound error at the core of the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision. The originalists on the Court forgot their history. This is that history―and eventually it will provide the basis for reversing the Court’s critical error. (Lawrence Lessig, author of Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress―and a Plan to Stop It)
This is a wonderful and important book. Zephyr Teachout shows what’s wrong with how the Supreme Court thinks about democracy and political corruption, how we got to this terrible place, and that it wasn’t always this way―and doesn’t have to be. There’s a lot of learning and original synthesis here, and also an unmistakable voice, which blends a lively intelligence with passion for democracy as a way of life. (Jedediah Purdy, author of A Tolerable Anarchy: Rebels, Reactionaries, and the Making of American Freedom)
You have probably heard pundits say we are living in an age of ‘legalized bribery’; Corruption in America is the book that makes their case in careful detail…State governments subject to wealthy corporations? Check. Speculators in legislation, infesting the capital? They call it K Street…And all of it has happened, Teachout admonishes, because the founders’ understanding of corruption has been methodically taken apart by a Supreme Court that cynically pretends to worship the founders’ every word. (Thomas Frank New York Times Book Review)
[Teachout] wrote [this] book, she says, primarily in answer to conservative members of the Supreme Court, who, in a series of decisions climaxing in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, have successively narrowed the legal definition of corruption to the point that it now effectively includes only outright bribery. In Citizens United, for example, the majority struck down corporate spending limits in politics on the grounds that there is nothing inherently corrupting about corporations trying to buy influence with politicians so long as there is no explicit quid pro quo. Teachout spends much of her book showing just how naive, dangerous, and, frankly, anti-American the Founding Fathers would have considered such reasoning…It is certainly refreshing to watch Teachout remind jurists who pretend to wrap themselves in the mantle of strict construction just how at odds their views of human nature and the role of government are with those of the framers. (Daniel Bush Washington Monthly)
[Teachout] has written an intelligent, stimulating, and wide-ranging retort to the Roberts Court’s constrained view of corruption. In Corruption in America, she argues that for democracy to thrive, we need a far more capacious characterization of this key concept…Her book in part [is] a greatest hits of court cases and laws dealing with bribery and lobbying, full of corrupt land deals and railroad intrigue…While there is obviously plenty to debate and disagree over in how we might define and delineate corruption, the broad unsettledness of the concept is perhaps Teachout’s point. She has some ideas on how we might think about corruption, and she highlights others’ ideas as well. But mostly, she just wants us to debate and discuss corruption more, to view it as a controversial issue, and not to let the Roberts Court sweep it away into a marginal corner so that it can then declare it irrelevant, thus clearing the way for unlimited campaign contributions…Teachout’s book may be just the rousing call to arms we need for the fight ahead. (Lee Drutman Democracy)
About the Author
Zephyr Teachout is Associate Professor of Law at Fordham University.
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Anyone wanting to reflect on the current state of legislative gridlock at the national level, and maybe other levels, or the majority losing out to a minority view or group, needs to read this book and brood over it for awhile
What this book addresses affects us all and is worth the read.
The author's book is academic in its delivery but avoids burdening the work with unnecessary ostentatious words. However, the book is constructed in a manner where it's important for the reader to carefully follow along with her presentation. The law professor walks you through our country's history of dealing with corruption in public institutions. It focuses on both the federal and state actions. 'Corruption in America' also shows how there is no clear-cut definition of corruption. She posits questions in the cases reviewed that left me stumped as to a resolution. The book covers such issues as who influenced the Founding Fathers' thinking when creating the Constitution, the laws constant struggles in dealing with what defines bribery and extortion, the concerns of the judiciary usurping the legislative role, lobbying, the spoils system, when are campaign contributions corrupt, the conservative's law and economic movement, the commitment to civic virtue, and the moral versus legal perspectives in addressing corruption. Much of what is addressed in the book are not black-and-white issues. The book concludes with suggestions by Ms. Teachout on how to get back on track in preventing our country from devolving into a plutocracy. The two Appendix chapters (Anticorruption Constitutional Provisions, Major Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Anticorruption Laws) were also helpful.
'Corruption in America' is not a collection of stories about corruption. Ms. Teachout's work is about challenging the current conservative judges who view the First Amendment as the trump card in the Constitution. Our Founding Fathers were very concerned with corruption because of what they studied from history as well as what was occurring in England. Many Americans foolish believe our democracy is indestructible, that we are incapable of evolving into a society tailored strictly for the rich and elite because of corruption. 'Corruption in America' was published in 2014, before Trump became president. If the GOP 2017 Tax Bill rammed through the Congress and signed by President Foghorn Leghorn because of pressure by their rich contributors, despite an overwhelming objection by the public, is not a clear sign of corruption and plutocracy, then I'm the friggin' Queen of England. Ms. Teachout's book was interesting but somewhat dry in presentation.