On February 13th, Democratic Perspective co-hosts, Steve Williamson and Mike Cosentino continued their series on the influence of money in politics. They began by listing a few eye-opening statistics:
$3.5 billion is spent on lobbying each year. (And that’s just the “above board” lobbying that can be tracked.) There are more than 13,000 registered lobbyists in the U.S. And there are six health care lobbyists for every elected official.
Of course, many, including a majority of Supreme Court justices, argue that the money spent on lobbying and campaign contributions is free speech. But we all know the effects of such spending.
For example, 98 percent of the people elected to the House of Representatives and 88 percent of those elected to the Senate outspent their opponents. In 2008, it has been estimated that $2.4 billion was spent on the presidential election and another $2.9 billion was spent on Congressional elections.
Money has changed everything. Lobbying has perverted the legislative system and steered power away from constituents to large organizations and industries who can afford to buy influence through lobbyists and campaign contributions.
Jack Abramoff, the former Washington lobbyist who was convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy, has written Capitol Punishment, a book on corruption and the influence of lobbying. Appearing on 60 Minutes on CBS, Abramoff told Leslie Stahl that bribery is “done every day and it’s still being done.” He said the surest method was the promise of future, high-paying jobs to the top staffers of Congressional representatives. “Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to them, that was it. We owned them. … Every request … of our clients, everything that we want, they’re going to do. Not only that, they’re going to think of things we can’t think of to do.”
Abramoff has also been quoted as saying, “Access is vital in lobbying. If you can’t get in the door, you can’t make your case. Here we had a hostile senator, whose staff was hostile, and we had to get in. So that’s the lobbyist safe-cracker method … throw fundraisers, raise money, and become a big donor.”
A particularly sorry example of the influence by lobbyists on federal legislation took place during the vote for TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) that bailed out the “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions. To sway some of the members of Congress who voted against the bill, lobbyists proposed a number of sweetners such as earmarks for Puerto Rican rum and NASCAR.
Of course, there are many similar examples in state government. Groups like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) which is funded by the infamous Koch brothers also pervert the system. As we’ve explained before, ALEC writes legislation on behalf of its conservative sponsors then searches for legislators willing to introduce the bills in their statehouses. Just this past year, 50 ALEC-created bills were introduced by Florida legislators. In addition, dozens were introduced in Arizona, Virginia and Ohio. And, in case you’re wondering, nothing like ALEC exists on the left.
Another such conservative organization is Arizona’s own Goldwater Institute which has written all of the anti-union legislation being introduced in the Arizona legislature.
Also in Arizona, some of Governor Jan Brewer’s aides and political allies have been tied to the private prison industry. Is it just coincidence, then that more private prisons are being built in Arizona despite the fact that they cost the state more per prisoner than public prisons?
Perhaps that’s why AZ House minority leader, Chad Campbell, recently concluded that Jan Brewer does nothing that doesn’t benefit Jan Brewer.
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