Speaking in Cleveland on Wednesday, President Obama was asked what he thought about money in politics. He responded by suggesting that voting be mandatory, as it is in countries such as Australia.
"If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country," he said, adding that mandatory voting would "counteract money more than anything."
Mandatory voting certainly would alter the political map -- and likely in the president's favor. Less than 37 percent of Americans voted in November's election, and those who didn't would probably have supported Democrats. With mandatory voting, the election might have been a victory for Obama's party, rather than a defeat.
Mandatory voting would help Democrats, but it wouldn't solve the problem of money in politics unless you think that Democrats are invulnerable to corruption. Law enforcement certainly doesn't think they are. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Sheldon Silver, the former speaker of the New York Assembly, are at the center of the two most recent high-profile corruption cases. Both are Democrats. Silver pleaded not guilty, and Menendez has said he obeyed the law.
Money is a problem in politics because politicians rely on contributions to run campaigns and get elected. Even when they don't break the law, these contributions seem certain to influence politicians' decisions in favor of those with money to give. Mandatory voting would eliminate one major expense of campaigning, the get-out-the-vote operation in the final days before the election. Politicians would still need money to pay staff, travel and buy TV spots, so they'd still be dependent on their donors and obliged to cater to their whims.
Welcome to Wonkbook. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism or ideas to Wonkbook at Washpost dot com. Follow Wonkblog on Twitter and Facebook.
What's in Wonkbook: 1) FOMC review 2) Opinions, including Pethokoukis on the GOP budget 3) Jeb Bush's unsavory business connections, and more
1. Top story: Fed ready to raise rates but could wait
Wednesday's statement from the central bank conveyed conflicting signals. "The Federal Reserve opened a door to raising short-term interest rates by midyear, but signaled it’s in no hurry to walk through it. ... Comments by Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen after the meeting and new central bank forecasts suggested the Fed intends to proceed cautiously. It isn’t yet set on raising rates in June, and once it starts it now sees a smaller succession of increases in coming years than it did just three months ago. That is in part due to low inflation." Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.
Quote of the day: "Just because we removed the word ‘patient’ from the statement does not mean we are going to be impatient," Yellen said. Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.
What does that even mean? "The Fed really said that it's going to be more patient than it was before, even if it's not officially so. In other words, it could hike rates at any time starting in June, but it's less likely to do so. And even when lift off does happen, it'll probably happen slower than people thought it would. The Fed's going to take its time making sure it gets this right. ... It thinks unemployment can get down to between 5 and 5.2 percent, rather than 5.2 and 5.5 percent, before inflation starts picking up. Why does that matter? Well, joblessness is already at 5.5 percent, so if that was as low as the Fed thought it could go, it'd have to start raising rates soon. But now we know that it thinks unemployment can fall further, which means the first rate hike should be further away." Matt O'Brien inThe Washington Post.