Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

May 4, 2010

Rippy: You just can’t get away from it

MT. VERNON — I wanted to start this week with a discussion on public financing of elections, earmarks or amendments, but the corruptness of our government caused by lobbying keeps me coming back to the subject.

I find that opposition to clean elections and public financing is directly tied to corporations that fund the lobbying to oppose clean elections. Clean elections would take away their influence and the ability to purchase votes that benefit their special interests. The same holds true for earmarks and amendments. So just bear with me. We have a lot of time between now and mid-term elections in November, and even more time before elections in 2012, to really explore these issues. We will get to all of them.

The buying of our Congress is at the root of all our problems. A lifelong friend sent me an article this week from the Hightower Low Down newsletter.

“Here is the change that Americans really want. We the people, the majority of us — have made it clear that we want real substantive change in the way our government works, and for whom it works. We are sick of a ‘jobless recovery,’ banks playing ‘hanky-panky,’ collapsing bridges, corporate owned elections, trickle down economics, foreign oil dependency, made in China everything, corporate welfare bail-outs, falling wages, skyrocketing tuition, the death of the middle class and on and on. Enough is enough! Stop it!”

When you really dig into our problems deeply, it becomes obvious that our government really works for the special interest groups who fund their elections and buy their votes. Our Congress is like 5-watt bulbs sitting in 100-watt sockets as stated in the newsletter. The focus needs to be on the players behind the scenes pulling the strings to kill the will of the people and impose their special interest over America’s public interest. I guess that by now you want to know who these shadowy folks are.

The most recent published estimates list 11,195 corporate lobbyists plying their trade in Washington.

They own the joint. It is estimated that last year $2.95 billion (yes, billion) was spent by corporations to influence votes in Congress. A sum more than six times greater than the total spent by all non-corporate groups combined.

Corporate executives and lobbyists are reported to have slipped $473 million into Washington’s many political pockets so far this year for the 2010 elections. This year-to-date total is almost equal to the $475 million total spent for the 2008 election.

Would you believe that roughly 300 former members of Congress are currently in harness to corporate lobbying firms? Instead of going home when they retire or they are not re-elected, some of them just move several blocks down the street and go to work for corporate lobbying firms at substantial six and even seven figure salaries. One report states that corporations are spending as much as $200 million a month to maintain these hired guns. The corporations and organizations funding these ex-members of Congress feel they are getting huge returns on their investments every time a bill is defeated that will affect their profits or bonuses, regardless of the pain it causes Joe or Jane main street citizen.

This will only get worse now that the Supreme Court decreed in January that corporations can spend unlimited sums to elect or defeat candidates of their choice. This will allow corporate lobbyists to say to the candidate,” stand with us,” on our special interest issues or we’ll run a multi-million campaign to defeat you and get someone who will.

One example published in the Low Down was of 93 major corporations, including Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Pfizer, that spent $283 million on lobbyists in 2004 to shove a special tax break through Congress. Last year, the University of Kansas published a cost-benefit analysis of this spending on lobbyists for the bill. The tax break they won allowed the 93 firms to dodge 462.5 billion taxes they otherwise owed. Invest $283 million and get a $62 billion return. Wow! How is that for a huge return on their lobbying investment? They report that it is common today for Washington lobbying shops to promise corporate clients that for every $1 spent, their clients can expect a $100 return.

Until we stop the practice of buying our Congress by corporations and organizations through their lobbying efforts, we will continue the downward spiral.

One last excerpt from my reading and research shows how buying our Congress has impacted our country, “Cancer metaphors are overused in our society, but are appropriate here. The sheer financial power of corporations is acting as a voracious cancer in America’s body, devouring even the strongest expressions of the public interest. We cannot pretend to be a Democratic republic, if such brutish sums of special interest money are allowed to rampage through the political system, destroying the people’s will.”

Please do not vote for a single candidate — Republican, Democrat or Independent — that does not stand for banning all lobbyists. Even if you are a senior like me, do it for your kids and grandkids. Next week we’ll talk about public financing of elections, or clean elections. Some states have adopted the idea.

  • James Rippy is a former manager of what is now Continental Tire North America in Mt. Vernon and has authored a book titled “Executivitis.” E-mail him at rippyj@charter.net.

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