rampant public lying by political committees shortly before elections followed by contrition and “mistakes were made”apologies after the election. The list is endless and lest anyone say that American ingenuity is on the ropes, the sheer creativeness of some of these efforts is breathtaking.
It is not of this political skullduggery that I write. Far beyond Nixonian dirty tricks and totally in a category by itself is the Citizens United case which effectively disenfranchises the American voter by opening the floodgates of corporate money and influence in the election process. The most sweeping damage to American politics in a century was done not by a few men in a dark room stuffing ballot boxes but instead in the temple of justice of the Supreme Court where five justices banded together to sweep away a century of law about the role of corporations in the election process. These five justices opened the floodgates of monied interests to influence every election. Justice Roberts should not be proud of this handiwork.
The case should properly be called “Citizens Eunited,”because it truly cost the US voters their potency. Like eunuchs, US voters still have an outward appearance of normalcy, but in reality they have lost that which gave them power and made the US the world’s greatest democracy. The importance of Citizens Eunited cannot be overestimated.
As voters we are now reduced to a sort of federal motor vehicles department. Through our votes we collectively issue a license to some person whose character and ethics we little understand. What we do learn about a candidate is subject to endless spin, camouflage, “correction,” and packaging. Inconvenient truths and facts are distorted beyond recognition. The American middle class voter is fed endless streams of sound bites but few real speeches that show character, and even the limited televised debates are scripted and get more production time than most full-length feature films. Citizens Eunited enables stealth candidates to come into office without our even knowing what they stand for or who they are. Perhaps we should award an Oscar for best fictional character in the Congress, although it might be hard to pick the winner out of more than 400 made-up and contrived people.
Issues are no better. Corporations form huge combines of trade associations and politicalinfluence groups with innocuous names to lobby for the special interest dujour. Much of the time we are unable to tell who or what is behind the lobbyist group.
“Citizens for a Fair Wage” may suggest that the group is pro-labor and for an increase in the minimum wage, and then we find out that it is funded by an association of restaurant chains to ensure that minimum wages are not
increased. We started that camouflaging the names of statutes under the last Bush presidency when a law called “No Child Left Behind” consistently cut aid to schools and dependent children.
Recently the Democratic Party started identifying all the political funding of the Koch brothers who actively try to influence think
tanks, scientist and universities along political lines. The denunciation of the Koch brothers should not be understood to be a
restoration of democracy. Instead it is simply one political group pointing the finger at another political group, when both of them are doing the same thing and taking money from lobbyists and corporate interests right and left. The tee shirt of this age is emblazoned with the phrase: “My lobbyists can beat up your lobbyists.”
And lobbyists there are aplenty. Trying to influence the Affordable Care Act, the health and drug industries fielded an avalanche of lobbyists armed with“white” papers, studies, position papers, legislation drafts and other tools of influence. There were more than 3,800 lobbyists registered and actively involved in forming and shaping policy on the first national health legislation in
decades. That is more than ten lobbyists for every member of the House. Added to the sheer numbers of lobbyists crowding out the voice of concerned citizens is an endless parade of fact finding trips and conclaves in tony resorts for Congresspeople to “drill down”into the issues while drilling down into the buffet and the bar. What voter has a chance against all that money and
A very wise businessman once taught me to always find out who the person across the table from me is working for. In the business world, someone’s boss may be a board of directors, or a government minister, or another powerful executive.
In American politics today, a member of Congress doesn’t work for us, the voters. Those running for another election will tell us that they want our votes, but that vote only gets them a seat. From that moment on, they work for lobbyists. The only limitation after the vote is whether they will draw the line at total intellectual dishonesty while in office.
Less than total honesty is the norm. The trade associations and lobbying groups will produce whatever “science” and policy papers that justify their own positions, and we have seen numerous scandals in which university professors have been paid by drug companies to ignore unhappy facts about drug outcomes and by coal companies and utilities to tell us that global warming is a myth propounded by tree huggers. Those same lobbyists tell us that using implements made in China is just fine even if thousands die there from the effects of too rapid industrialization. We are all too well aware that there are communities dotted across the land in which there is so much combustible methane in the water supply from fracking that homeowners can light their lawn sprinklers for the Fourth of July instead of buying sparklers. Of course the natgas industry tells us that is just fine and “very, very limited” when it occurs.
Until 2010 there was some limited control over the use of corporate money to influence political debate. Since Citizens Eunited there is almost no real control over the corrosive power of megamillions being channeled into
the political process. To survive as a vibrant democracy, we must begin to take the political process back, to
restore our votes, to find a way where our voice carries as much weight as
General Motors’coffers and to remind our Congresspeople for whom they work. That
process will be long and complicated, and we will have to fight yet another army
of lobbyists to get that done.