Rise of the Machine

Between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, for the first time in a long time, perhaps since the Robber Barons raided Washington during the Gilded Age, the American public has taken a genuine interest in influence peddling and corruption in the nation’s capital.

And with good reason: just last year, of course, the Supreme Court made it much easier for corporations to dump unlimited sums of money into gaming the electoral process through their Citizens United ruling. Before that, particularly in the lead up to the 2006 midterm elections, Americans were treated to the sight of high profile DC movers and shakers being frog marched into various prison cells, from lobbyists like Jack Abramoff to Congressmen like Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney. Sure, some rather lame reforms were passed in the aftermath of these scandals, but much of the country has been left with a sense that the corruption runs deeper than a few bad apples.

As it happens, this suspicion is largely a correct one– corruption has burrowed deep into our political processes and nested there. It’s a story that the Washington Monthly has followed for decades, with perhaps no finer example than former editor (now New York Times reporter) Nicholas Confessore’s “Welcome to the Machine“. Published in 2003, it chronicled the birth of the Republican “K Street Project”, one of the most successful and mutually-beneficial mixtures of corporate lobbying and party politics Washington has ever seen. While the K Street Project would feature in subsequent corruption scandals, the deeper value of Confessore’s reporting was in showing how Washington’s major institutions really work, lessons that are as timely today as they were in 2003.

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Sebastian Jones

Sebastian Jones is an editor at the Washington Monthly.