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Systemic Corruption in Congress

Corruption has existed in Congress for decades, but it's so much worse than you think
OPINION: It’s worse than you think…

Home Box Office released a documentary last summer called “The Swamp.” I’ve had enough exposure to American politics to be unsurprised by legalized corruption, but this film revealed some things that stunned even a cynic like myself.

Through interviews with three Republican members of Congress—Matt Goetz of Florida, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ken Buck of Colorado—we learn about the ways the system constrains lawmakers from doing the right thing by their constituents. While the documentary itself suffers from structural problems, the stories are fascinating. I found myself sympathizing with their frustrations over corruption, although I have little in common with them otherwise.

The Biggest surprise

The biggest surprise was learning about the sheer audacity of the two major parties in extorting money from sitting representatives. Before watching the film, I had presumed, perhaps naïvely, that committee assignments were primarily determined by seniority. I wasn’t happy with that system, but I’m even more appalled by the truth. 

Even the lawmakers profiled in “The Swamp” express their frustration and disgust, but apparently feel that they must work within the corrupt system to do what they can for their constituents…and, of course, donors.


You probably already know that members of the House of Representatives must collect large amounts of money to fund their bi-annual re-election campaigns. It’s been estimated that most members spend over two-thirds of their time soliciting donors to bring in the more than $2,000 per day needed to mount a campaign.


It would be bad enough if those solicitation efforts were limited to their own campaigns, but here’s what I found so shocking: each member’s party presents him or her with an annual “bill,” which determines the member’s legislative power—committee assignments and chairmanships. If the member fails to raise the stipulated amount for the party, they are stripped of their assignments!

I can’t think of a better example of why it’s so important that we continue our work at Represent.Us to drive out this legalized, systemic corruption. Even the lawmakers profiled in “The Swamp” express their frustration and disgust, but apparently feel that they must work within the corrupt system to do what they can for their constituents and, of course, donors. If you are as scandalized as I am by this, join us and contribute your ideas, efforts and resources to fix our broken system.

Represent San Diego is a non-partisan organization working to fix our broken elections and end political bribery and secret money through many methods including Democracy Dollars, a plan to provide public funding for elections and thereby make them more representative. For information about how you can become involved in the fight to save our democracy, sign up with Represent San Diego and find out about all our reform efforts.

MORE: How Engaged Citizens Can End Corruption & Create Change

Bill Campbell

Bill Campbell has been active in Represent.Us since 2019. He is a veteran of the U.S. Marines and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. His primary motivation for supporting Represent.Us is helping to fix the pervasive corruption in our government, especially at the federal level.

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