Is money’s deep role in politics the root of our woes?

(By Gergen/Zuckerman at This past Sunday’s “60 Minutes” and the latest issue of Newsweek bring back to the fore the complicated issue of money and politics. Both highlight a new book by Peter Schweizer, “Throw Them All Out,” which rails against what Schweizer calls “honest graft.”

Schweizer charges that leaders from both houses of Congress have been drawing on insider knowledge to make money in the stock market — a practice that is banned in American industry and restricted in other sectors of government.  And although he is a conservative at the Hoover Institution, Schweizer is an equal opportunity scourge, attacking both Democratic and Republican leaders.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Republican speaker John Boehner have fired back, asserting that Schweizer has misrepresented them and they have done nothing wrong. Until competent legal authorities investigate, both deserve the benefit of the doubt. The public does, of course, deserve a more thorough airing of the facts. Equally important, Congress ought to have rules about conflicts of interest that are as demanding as those for people who work in the executive and judicial branches; so far, Congress skates free.

But whatever the rebuttals from Capitol Hill, this controversy underscores a deepening sense that money plays far too large a role in politics. If anything unites the tea party and the Occupy Wall Street protesters, surely it is the sense that the system is rigged in favor of big shots in Washington and against little guys back home. Money is at the heart of it.

A new book that should receive far more attention makes an even more sweeping and thoroughly researched case against money in politics — “Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It,”  by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig.

The author is a man of many parts: Lessig made his name as a legal theorist in issues surrounding new technologies, but he also has a keen interest in politics. He was the youngest member of the Pennsylvania delegation that nominated Ronald Reagan at the Republican convention in 1980, clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and later endorsed his friend and former University of Chicago Law School colleague Barack Obama for president.

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