Bizarro World Meets “Pay to Play”

Fans of sixties-era Superman comics, seventies-era Superfriends cartoons, and nineties-era Seinfeld episodes will remember Bizarro World, the strange cube-shaped planet where things are done the opposite of what one might think makes sense. The planet is ruled by the "Bizarro Code," which states "Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!"

So what has me strolling down corny pop-culture lane for this blog post? The Brennan Center, and their Bizarro World perspective on so-called "pay to play" laws that prevent anyone who contributes to candidates from receiving government contracts. More specifically, Brennan’s recent criticism of the Senate confirmation of Ray LaHood, former Illinois Congressman and now Secretary of Transportation in the Obama administration.

From their release:

Roads and bridges… and the lucrative contracts for their construction-are the stock-in-trade of pay-to-play politics… By softballing LaHood’s confirmation hearings, the Senate missed the opportunity to exact guarantees that the pay-to-play culture of Bush’s Transportation Department and LaHood’s home state of Illinois won’t make inroads into the Obama Administration…

… the Bush Administration… succeeded in knocking a sizeable hole in Illinois’ ban on pay-to-play deals that the state Senate had attempted to pass in the wake of the Blagojevich scandal. The Department of Transportation threatened to block federal funding for roads and bridges in Illinois unless the Illinois Senate exempted transportation projects from the pay-to-play ban, which prohibits businesses that have or seek state contracts worth more than $50,000 from donating to statewide officeholders… In New Jersey in 2004, the Federal Highway Administration had used a similar threat to withhold state highway funding in order to weaken a state executive order limiting the size of campaign contributions from government contractors to state candidates.

The… asserted justification for opposing state pay-to-play reform efforts is that banning pay-to-play practices might potentially prevent some businesses from bidding, and that such a restriction on competitive bidding might potentially drive up the cost of projects. This supposed "cost-saving" justification is absurd — multiple defense contracting scandals have only emphasized that when government contracts are awarded through political favoritism and pay-to-play dealmaking, public funds are squandered, not saved.

Perhaps in Bizarro World where competitively bid contracts are awarded to the highest bidder, the Brennan Center may be right. On this earth, however, the purpose of competitive bidding is to eliminate political favoritism by giving the contract to the lowest bidder. And it’s universally understood that the more bidders for any given contract, the more likely it is that the public will get the best deal possible.

This isn’t just speculation, of course. In a recent decision upholding New Jersey’s unfortunate "pay to play" ban, the case centered on a road contractor who submitted a bid that was subsequently disqualified when his recent contributions to the local Republican Party were discovered. The contractor, Walter Earle II, had submitted the lowest bid, but New Jersey’s "pay to play" law forced the state to ignore his low bid in favor of higher bids.

I guess this is how "pay to play" prevents taxpayer dollars from being "squandered" through awarding contracts to the lowest bidder. Maybe if we can trick the folks at the Brennan Center into saying "retnecnannerb" they’ll go away and stop this nonsense (different joker, I know, but it’s worth a try)?

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.