All Commentary
Wednesday, October 1, 1986

Book Review: Destroying Democracy: How Government Funds Partisan Politics by James T. Bennett and Thomas J. DiLorenzo

Cato Institute, 224 Second St., SE, Washington, D.C. 20003 • 1985 • 561 pages, $24.95 cloth, $11.95 paperback

Destroying Democracy provides a detailed account of the thousands of hidden and diverse ways Federal agencies hand over billions of taxpayer dollars to special interest advocacy organizations. This practice subverts whatever fairness we may have in American politics. Moreover, it is against the law, as shown by passages from laws enacted by Congress and rulings of the Supreme Court.

Behind the facade of representative government, political bodies play a major role in shaping public opinion. They do so by funding special interests which, in turn, lobby for the handouts on which they depend. To obtain tax dollars, the special interest groups engage in a masquerade, claiming that their intent is to aid the less fortunate, advance the public interest, protect the consumer, improve the environment, uplift minorities, and so on. Actually, pressure groups use the taxpayers’ money primarily to further their own interests.

“Virtually without exception, the recipients of government grants and contracts advocate greater governmental control over and intervention in the private sector, greater limitations on the fight of private property, more planning by government, income redistribution, and political rather than private decision making.” (The exceptions are a handful of fight-wing organizations which have responded to the lure of politi cal handouts.)

Some examples: One government agency gave a Ralph Nader “public interest research group” $1,287,000 in the period 1979-81. Jesse Jackson’s People United to Save Humanity received more than $5 million during 197781 from the departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Commerce. The National Organization of Women and its affiliates have received considerable grants, one of which (for $105,000) was used to finance a media campaign publicizing NOW’s positions. Tom Hayden’s Campaign for Economic Democracy was awarded $500,000, and its activist training arm, The Center for New Corporate Priorities, received a separate grant of $126,000.

This book details the realm of tax-funded politicking, and in so doing offers something much broader. Since most advocacy groups receive taxpayer support, the work serves as a handbook of hundreds of activist organizations, from the most remote grass-roots campaigns to the most prestigious Washington think tanks.

In addition to the text, there is a hundred-page appendix listing the recipient organizations, the Federal agency which gave the money, the amount, and the dates.

Before we can successfully oppose “the engineering of consent” we must identify the engineers and know how they operate. This book tells us.

  • Daniel Klein is professor of economics and JIN Chair at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and associate fellow at the Ratio Institute (Stockholm). At GMU he leads a program in Adam Smith. He is the author of Knowledge and Coordination: A Liberal Interpretation and editor of Econ Journal Watch.