Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

June 1, 2010

Rippy: Will we stop the lobby machine?

MT. VERNON — I have a lifelong friend who e-mails me articles from time to time. He is a retired professor residing in Arizona. I always remind him that I knew him before he had the title Doctor before his name. We served together in the service as 19-year-old “grunts.” He sent me an article that I want to share some excerpts with you. This is just another example of the power that special interest groups have over our lives and why we must stop this at the voting booth in November and 2012.

The article by Eric Lictblau and Edward Wyatt really puts our current situation and the power of lobbyist in perspective. It is a lengthy article so I am going to use some excerpts and just attempt to explain in my simplified way why it is essential to ban all lobbying and vote out any incumbent not willing to do so. This article is about the money and full court press being put by the lobbyists now that the financial overhaul has been passed in the Senate. Just read some of the excerpts:

“Last Wednesday, Rep. David Scott (D-GA), mingled with insurance and financial executives and other supporters at a lunchtime fund-raiser in his honor at a chic Washington wine bar before rushing out to cast a House vote.

“Nearby, supporters of Rep. Michael E. Capuano (D-Mass.), gathered that evening at a Capitol Hill town house for a $1,000-a-head fundraiser. Just as that was wrapping up, Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), was feted by campaign donors at nearby Nationals Park at a game against the Mets.

“It was just another day in the nonstop fundraising cycle for members of the House Financial Services Committee, which has become a magnet for money from Wall Street and other deep-pocketed contributors, especially as Congress moves to finalize the most sweeping new financial regulations in seven decades. Executives and political action committees from Wall Street banks, hedge funds, insurance companies and related financial sectors have showered Congressional candidates with more than $1.7 billion in the last decade, with much of it going to the financial committees that oversee the industry’s operations.”

Does it not make you just a little curious as to why insurance and financial groups find it so necessary to spend  billions of dollars buying the votes of members in the House and Senate? Do you think they spend the money and employ high-priced lobbyists to look out for your interests at the big banks and insurance companies? I just sort of doubt that. Maybe it goes something like this: “Hey you guys, the only way we can save your gravy train is to call a Senate hearing, beat up on you while you sit defenseless and take our guff, and then we can both go back to doing what we’ve been doing. So you keep those campaign checks coming, don’cha hear?”

How about this little gem I found in a newsletter on the recently passed health care reform bill? “Internal documents recently reviewed by Fortune, originally requested by Congress, show what the bill’s critics predicted, and what its champions dreaded: Many large companies are examining a course that was heretofore unthinkable, dumping the health care coverage they provide to their workers in exchange for paying penalty fees to the government. That would dismantle the employer-based system that has reigned since World War II.”

I find that one just a little bit more than scary! I find that repugnant and horrible!

I have found a list of several questions that we should be asking of all incumbents pertaining to fair elections/publicly financed.

We will cover them each week between now and November 2010 and 2012. It will be interesting to see what type of answers we get. Let’s start with some basics questions and answers that I have found.

Ask your incumbents if they are co-sponsors of the Fair Elections Now Act.  Members of Congress do not like to be put in the position where they have to defend the way campaigns are currently financed. It is very difficult for them to defend the current system and not sound self-serving, if not corrupt. This is because, for incumbents, the current system is self-serving and it is corrupt. The best strategies they have for dealing with this subject is to avoid addressing it at all or if they have to address it, to say that we, the folks back home, have it all wrong; money doesn’t really have any effect on them or on the work of Congress. Then they change the subject.

While most of us find money to be very useful in getting what we need, we are asked to believe that money doesn’t work that way for people who make large campaign contributions. Incumbents say they don’t really have a good idea who gives them money or what, if anything, these people or these PACs want in return. 

Anyway, it doesn’t affect any of the votes that the incumbent makes. It’s kind of like Superman and kryptonite.  We know that Superman is powerful, just like money.  But, in the presence of kryptonite, Superman loses all of his power.  And, just like that, they would have us believe, money loses all of its power, as soon as it lands in the hands of a politician!

The “money doesn’t work” argument is even more absurd when you know that incumbents spend an enormous amount of time raising enormous amounts of money knowing that, if they fail to do so, they may lose their jobs in the next election.

Incumbents will try to cut off any conversation about the role of campaign money in Washington by saying, “In all my years in Washington, I’ve never seen campaign money make any difference in the way I or any of my colleagues vote.”

But, people are not fools. Polls consistently show that large percentages of voters of every party think that members of Congress listen to those who pay for their campaigns more than they listen to the voters. Recent polls showed that to be true by an 87 percent to 12 percent margin.

Let’s get clear answers on banning lobbyists, clean elections and transparent earmarks before we vote. This is far more important than whether the candidate is Democrat, Republican, Liberal or Conservative.  Party affiliation and philosophy do not stand for much if you are willing to sell your vote to the special interest groups. Let’s be “a lobbyist of one” for integrity.

  • 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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