Let Them Eat Airfare!

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Ah, back to everyone’s favorite Congressional corruption mini-scandal. Now it turns out that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has a few delinquent travel reports in her closet. Tsk tsk. Now as far as I can tell, this isn’t even remotely in the same league as Tom DeLay’s little shenanigans, but hey, if it turns out that Democrats also deserve a slap on the wrist for ethics violations here, then fine, slap away. What’s interesting, though, is this little bit on the “scandal” of Congressional travel:

The data firm PoliticalMoneyLine calculates that members of Congress have received more than $18 million in travel from private organizations in the past five years, with Democrats taking 3,458 trips and Republicans taking 2,666.

$18 million dollars? Really now, this isn’t a lot of money in the context of total government spending. On the other hand, it’s a lot of money when considered as the sum of private favors from lobbyist to politician. The obvious thing to do, then, is to pool together an $18 million kitty and let members of Congress take trips out of public funds instead. There’s a decent case to be made, after all, that these congressional “fact-finding” trips abroad are sometimes valuable, and more often a fun and decent perk to the job.

The better argument, though, is to say: look, members of Congress are going to go travel abroad one way or another; they can either do on the dime of some trade organization or corporation looking for a favorable hearing on some pro-business bill, or they can do it using taxpayer money, which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t all that much taxpayer money. Which would be a better state of affairs? I, for one, am more than happy to bribe politicians to stop skirting around the bounds of corruption!

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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