cover image The Corruption of American Politics: What Went Wrong and Why

The Corruption of American Politics: What Went Wrong and Why

Elizabeth Drew. Birch Lane Press, $21.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-55972-520-0

Thirteen years after the publication of Politics and Money, Drew returns to the role of money in politics and finds that the combination has grown even more toxic. Drew, a longtime political correspondent for the New Yorker, examines the 1996 and 1998 elections and the effects of unrestricted ""soft money,"" funds controlled by the political parties and not by any particular campaign. Drew is hardly the first to complain that the influence of large businesses and lobbying groups leaves politicians with little incentive to promote the public good over corporate welfare. But she goes beyond this old political verity to argue that the prevalence of soft money has lowered the quality of leadership in Washington. The most successful politicians are no longer the best executives or the best legislators, she says, but rather the best fund-raisers. Candidates risk forfeiting a substantial war chest if they let conviction persuade them to defy the will of their party bosses, because the political parties control soft money. As Drew leads readers through reform initiatives in the House and Senate (Tennessee Republican Fred Thompson, who chaired campaign finance hearings in the Senate, is presented favorably), she shows how reform was shot down by powerful special interest groups and the leaders of both parties. Drew evidently has a potent Rolodex: a great number of people spoke to her with unusual candor. Her talent for transforming the dry world of filibusters and poison-pill amendments into political drama makes her book one of the most skillfully written, as well as insightful, looks inside the Beltway to appear in a very long time. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.