April 08, 2015
Corporate officers have a fiduciary duty to increase the bottom line. That remains their only concern. Lose this battle, and any executive can find himself out of work. Break a few laws in order to score big, and the corporate officer can find himself with fat bonuses. So long as the fines, if any, are far less than the profits, their star will shine brightly in the corporate world. We saw this with the nearly one Trillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street after the 2008 housing bubble crisis. Corporate criminals seem to be increasingly immune to prosecution, at least in the United States. Such white-collar criminals are not so lucky in Iceland (Faris, 2013).
Buying congress members is a logical extension of this deeply ingrained selfishness. Lobbying congresspersons has become an institution unto itself. Jack Abramoff, perhaps the most infamous of congressional lobbyists, once wrote, “Human social systems usually last but a few generations before collapsing into the abyss of entropy” (Abramoff, 2012). He remarked on how amazing it was that American democracy has lasted as long as it has. His own involvement in conspiracy to bribe public officials, tax evasion and mail fraud, resulted in him being sentenced, in January 2006, to a six-year stay in federal prison. But lobbying in the United States is only one aspect of this far larger disease. The tendrils of corporate control include campaign contributions, writing the text of laws for congress to vote on, influencing the platforms of both major parties and even modifying the procedures of Congress itself so that variables are reduced or eliminated from their power equation. The game is rigged in their favor.
Corporate influence on government is nothing new. The private Federal Reserve System banks were a concoction of industry leaders who met secretly at Jekyll Island in 1910 to create a central bank from which they could control the government (Griffin, 1998). Having corporate insiders write legislation is now a well-established practice. Even Obamacare had its industry insiders on the committee sculpting its wording.
Lobbying in American Politics
Lobbying in the United States is certainly the most visible of the corporate corruptions found in government. Any citizen may be surprised to find just how much money is being spent every year on influence peddling. How can anyone look at lobbying as anything other than a refined form of bribery?
One sign that the corruption has burrowed deeply into the legislature is the fact that lobbyists have become congressional staffers, working in the offices of the elected officials themselves. Now, congressmen and women are only a few steps away from their sources of bribery (Elkis, 2013).
If lobbying were only about disseminating information, there might be no cause for alarm. Congresspersons certainly need experts to help them understand the complexities of every issue with which they are faced. Calling witnesses to investigative committees is one way to gather information. Perhaps lobbying is unnecessary, from the legislator’s viewpoint. But from the corporation’s viewpoint, lobbying is their most certain method to influence the votes in Congress. The lobbyist is the face of the corporation with handouts and perks to make the congressperson feel pampered. If any human being could divorce such artificial kindness from their decision making process, they would indeed be unique individuals. However, it becomes difficult for congressmen and women to act so stoically. It proves to be against human nature to bite the hand that feeds them. Next feeding cycle, the perks could easily disappear.
Lobbying appeals to the selfishness and self-concern in each individual. It corrupts what is already corruptible. The highpoint of lobbying madness came in 2007 (right before the financial meltdown of 2008) when a record 15,137 lobbyists were registered in Washington, DC. With 535 voting members (435 in the House and 100 in the Senate), that’s an incredible 28 lobbyists for every congressman (Reuters, 2009). The Sunlight Foundation reports an estimated one shadow lobbyist for every lobbyist who openly reports his/her activities to the public. They also tell of an estimated $6.7 Billion spent in 2012 by organized interests in “relating” with government officials (LaPira, 2013). That would amount to a whopping $12.5 Million per congressman.
If you are a candidate and want to become elected, you need campaign financing to make yourself known. Elections are expensive activities. They can prove brutal to the emotional wellbeing of the candidate. Money makes everything go a little more smoothly.
But only the deepest pockets can save a failing campaign.
Campaign contributions are an extension of lobbying. It has long been illegal for corporations to give contributions directly to candidates, but they have ways of contributing through political action committees (PACs). In fact, the US Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that corporations could not be limited in the amount they contributed in this way (Liptak, 2010). Why would any corporation pay thousands or millions of dollars into a politician’s campaign? Would they want something in return? Would it be naive to think that corporations contributed out of the altruistic kindness of their hearts?
The 2008 election saw a record campaign finance total of $5.3 Billion spent. The Obama-McCain presidential contest cost $2.4 Billion. Goldman Sachs spent $1.03 Million on Obama and $234,595 on McCain. Microsoft spent $854,717 on Obama. Citigroup spent $755,057 on Obama and $330,502 on McCain (Morris, 2013).
Beyond Lobbying and Campaign Contributions
Like any disease, political corruption spreads to every part of the host. Especially targeted, however, are the seats of power. This can be seen in the corruption of both main parties—the Democrats and Republicans. Exceptions to this corruption exist, but they seem to be increasingly rare.
During the 2012 presidential election cycle, the Republican Party suffered numerous examples of corruption in vote counts and in voting procedures (Swann, 8/23/2012). Popular outsider, Ron Paul, a doctor and politician from Texas, was repeatedly marginalized or not even mentioned by the corporate media, even when he was in second place against the media favorites. On one occasion, during the Republican national convention, more liberty-minded delegates, aligned with Dr. Paul, were kidnapped by their bus driver for over an hour while key votes were being taken on party procedures and rules (Maley, 2012). How much does it cost to buy a bus driver? Was this corporate influence? This remains a strong possibility, because Dr. Paul had never been one to listen to lobbyists in his more than 2 decades in office. He seemed to be incorruptible. A politician in the highest office of the land who was above lobbying influence could not be trusted to cooperate with the corporate agenda. Such a White House might require extreme actions with extreme prejudice. A far simpler solution would be to block his party’s nomination and to have party procedures make it impossible for another outsider ever to come this close again (Swann, 8/23/2012).
Both the Democratic and Republican national conventions that year suffered from a failure of votes and procedures. At both conventions, when a critical vote was being taken from the delegates, the chair in both conventions ignored what some considered to be a slight majority of “nay” votes (Swann, 8/30/2012). To his credit, the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, who was chair of the Democratic convention during their vote, ignored the script. He hesitated and asked for two recounts. Ultimately, a woman crossed the stage, whispered in the mayor’s ear and he simply read from the teleprompter the script that had been prepared in advance of the votes. “The ‘yeas’ have it, and the motion carries.” Such voting irregularities were recorded on video for all to see (Swann, 9/6/2012). In both conventions, the chairs had ignored the votes and did not ask for a count of individual delegates. The script had been set by someone in control, and no democracy was going to get in the way of corporate progress.
Senator Rand Paul, son of the Texas congressman, commented a few months earlier that legislators had achieved their lowest approval ratings partly because they did not read the bills upon which they vote. This bears repeating. They do not read the bills upon which they vote (Paul, 2012). Again, there are exceptions, but when the Senate and House leadership schedule votes, they know what they are doing. They know they are not giving their members time to read the bills and to discuss their faults and merits. To drive the country forward with such blindness has been considered by some to be criminal, at best.
Why would the congressional leadership do this? One obvious possible answer is that they have become critically unintelligent. Somehow, this does not seem to be the case. What else could it be? Perhaps they have been suborned to do this by those who pull their strings. Perhaps they have become corrupted. In fact, this seems the only reasonable choice. But who could wield that much influence over legislators? Obviously, the ones who pay for their campaigns could do this—lobbyists and the corporations for whom they work.
Another dimension to this corporate influence includes political appointees in the government bureaucracies. Regulators control vast amounts of power to keep corporations in check. If former corporate officers become the regulators, then the corporate infection becomes complete. The foxes take over the hen house and merely decide which chickens to eat first.
When Monsanto wanted approval of their first GMO (genetically modified organism) crop, FDA (Food and Drug Administration) scientists warned that far more study was needed to prove they were safe for human consumption and safe for the environment. Their bosses ignored the warnings. They may have done so because they may have still felt warm and fuzzy feelings for their former employers at Monsanto. In fact, the revolving door between the corporate world and the regulating agencies has been quite busy for decades.
Some of the revolving door superstars are,
- David Beier, Head of Government Affairs for Genetech (now Monsanto), and Chief Domestic Policy Advisor to Vice President Gore
- Both William Conlon and Sam Skinner worked for Monsanto’s legal team, and the US Department of Justice
- Robert Fraley was Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto, and served as advisor in public agencies, including USDA
- Michael A. Friedman, clinical affairs at G.D. Searle (merged with Monsanto), and Acting Commissioner of the FDA
- Marcia Hale, Director of International Government Affairs at Monsanto, and Assistant to President Clinton
- Arthur Hull Hayes, consultant to Searle’s (merged with Monsanto) public relations firm, and former FDA chairman
- Gwendolyn S. King, Monsanto board member, and Commissioner of SSA (1989–1992)
- William D. Ruckelshaus, Monsanto board member, and first Chief Administrator of EPA, later Acting Director of FBI, federal Deputy Attorney General, and again EPA Chief Administrator
- Donald Rumsfeld, CEO, President and Chairman of G.D. Searle (merged with Monsanto), and White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense under Ford, and Secretary of Defense under Bush, Jr.
- Clarence Thomas, Monsanto attorney, and Supreme Court Justice
And this is only a partial list of public officials with ties to one corporation (Corbett, 2013).
Corporations, it seems, attempt to cover all of the bases. They not only target congresspersons with lobbyists and infiltrate regulating agencies, they also have invaded the scientific, peer review journals. A highly controversial study condemning Monsanto BT corn was approved and published by Elsevier in their journal on plant toxicology. Not long afterward, former Monsanto executive, Richard Goodman, went to work at Elsevier as an editor. And not long after that, this article, and one other, critical of Monsanto, were retracted (Corbett, 2013). Now, we cannot even believe the peer review science on issues critical to our health.
Lobbying in the United States—A Disease Worthy of Amputation?
When a diseased limb threatens to kill the entire body, amputation is usually recommended. When the disease has destroyed tissue so that the limb is unrecoverable, then it becomes a permanent liability.
Can Americans amputate Congress and start over? Like any patient who has long been attached to their limbs, Americans seem bitterly opposed to such a drastic action. In a very real sense, Americans have been lobbied by corporations, too. Americans depend on corporate products and services. With every dollar they spend, citizens are supporting the corporations and their efforts to corrupt the government. Laws are increasingly tyrannical. The Constitution and Bill of Rights have been quietly eroded. Now, the NSA openly spies on citizens. Free speech has been curtailed, contrary to the provisions in the Bill of Rights. Americans can be held indefinitely without due process, without an attorney, and without a phone call. They can be disappeared. In a very real sense, Americans are paying for their own destruction.
The solution is simple, though not easy. Americans need to get rid of their own self-concern—the same selfishness disease from which the lobbyist was borne. Americans need to care more about each other than their self-interests. They need to stop allowing corporations to lobby for their support through the advertising media. They need to withdraw all their support from a corrupt machine that is beyond redemption.
All references retrieved on March 22, 2015.
Abramoff, Jack. July 24, 2012. “I Know the Congressional Culture of Corruption.” Retrieved from http://theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/07/i-know-the-congressional-culture-of-corruption/260081/
Corbett, James. December 3, 2013. “Genetic Fallacy: How Monsanto Silences Scientific Dissent.” Retrieved from https://youtube.com/watch?v=ShJTcIlTna0
Elkis, Margaret. May 7, 2013. “More Corruption: Lobbyists Becoming Congressional Staffers.” Retrieved from http://economyincrisis.org/content/more-corruption-lobbyists-becoming-congressional-staffers
Faris, Stephan. September 12, 2013. “Iceland Prosecutor Investigates, Convicts Bankers for Financial Crimes.” Retrieved from http://bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-09-12/iceland-prosecutor-investigates-convicts-bankers-for-financial-crimes
Griffin, G. Edward. 1998. “The Creature from Jekyll Island : A Second Look at the Federal Reserve.” American Media, Westlake Village, California
LaPira, Tim. November 25, 2013. “How much lobbying is there in Washington? It’s DOUBLE what you think.” Retrieved from http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2013/11/25/how-much-lobbying-is-there-in-washington-its-double-what-you-think/
Liptak, Adam. January 21, 2010. “Justices, 5-4, Reject Corporate Spending Limit.” Retrieved from http://nytimes.com/2010/01/22/us/politics/22scotus.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Maley, Dennis. September 1, 2012. “Ron Paul Supporters Fight RNC Shenanigans.” Retrieved from http://thebradentontimes.com/news/2012/09/01/election_2012/ron_paul_supporters_fight_rnc_shenanigans/
Morris, Patrick. December 28, 2013. “President Obama Spent $684 Million to Get Elected. You’ll Never Guess How Much Wall Street Chipped In” Retrieved from http://fool.com/investing/general/2013/12/28/president-obama-spent-684-million-to-get-elected.aspx
Paul, Senator Rand. June 29, 2012. “Sen. Rand Paul Speaks Out Against Senators Voting without Reading the Bills.” Retrieved from https://youtube.com/watch?v=svGDZOW-brA
Reuters.com. September 13, 2009. “FACTBOX-How many lobbyists are there in Washington?” Retrieved from http://reuters.com/article/2009/09/13/obama-lobbying-idUSN1348032520090913
Swann, Ben. August 30, 2012. “Did RNC ‘Scripted’ Rules Change Start A Civil War In The Republican Party?” Retrieved from https://youtube.com/watch?v=pKaXqoC4DjE
Swann, Ben. August 23, 2012. “Reality Check: RNC Pulling Out All Stops To Keep Ron Paul’s Name Out Of Nomination.” Retrieved from https://youtube.com/watch?v=cQvszfnOSY8
Swann, Ben. September 6, 2012. “Reality Check: DNC Runs Over Delegates With Scripted Platform Vote.” Retrieved from https://youtube.com/watch?v=HmaE2Aez_XY