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Posted on Oct 12, 2009
AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

A statue of George Washington gazes across the Capitol’s Statutory Hall. What would the first president have made of networks of lobbyists greasing the machinery of government with millions in payouts?

By Marie Cocco

I don’t have a sex scandal for you. The foibles of politicians and celebrities titillate. But ultimately, they have little to do with the most enduring and corrosive scandal of our civic life. It unfolds out in the open, day after day.

Millions of dollars slosh from the pockets of powerful corporate interests into the campaign accounts of lawmakers who then write the laws that determine the rules for how these businesses make money—or more money. Then millions more flood in through direct lobbying activity that ensures these same lawmakers are reminded, again and again, that the interests financing their campaigns have a favor to ask.

The nexus of campaign contributions, lobbying and the policy outcomes that do so much to help the powerful and so little to boost millions of average American taxpayers is well known. It used to be considered a worthy story just to point this out from time to time. Now it usually takes a scandal within a scandal—that is, a lawmaker or lobbyist who transgresses even the wide boundaries of the campaign finance and lobbying laws—to generate coverage.

Much of the important and little-heralded work now being done to document this national disgrace is undertaken by nonprofit organizations that have long endeavored to rouse the public and the media to this legal graft.

Most recently, the Sunlight Foundation teamed with the Center for Responsive Politics on a groundbreaking study related to health care overhaul. It shows outside lobbyists (lawyers, consultants and others who do not directly work for a company or trade group) donating to the same lawmakers as clients who have an interest in health care reform. The contributions by the lobbyists enhance the political power of the business organizations—which already are contributing through political action committees, or through executives who organize campaign fundraisers.

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Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and author of the main health revision bill under consideration in the Senate, was one of the chief beneficiaries. Between January 2007 and June 2009, the study shows, Baucus received contributions from 37 outside lobbyists who represent the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, the chief drug industry lobby group, and 36 lobbyists who listed Amgen, a drug maker, as a client.

As a group, drug companies were dominant players in the lobbying-campaign contribution complex. In all, 61 members of Congress—39 senators and 22 House members—got money from 10 or more outside lobbyists whose health care or insurance industry clients also contributed to their campaigns, the Sunlight Foundation says.

“When a lobbyist walks in the door, it’s not just one $500 contribution,” says Larry Makinson, senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation and chief researcher on the study. “It’s all the money their clients can bring.”

Preliminary results are in: The drug industry, in a private deal with the Obama White House, is expected to contribute only $80 billion in savings in the health care overhaul. Changes that congressional Democrats have long sought—such as allowing the government to negotiate deep discounts for prescription drugs in Medicare, as it does in Medicaid and in the veterans’ health system—have been largely abandoned.

The public seems to have become inured. Each presidential year, much attention is paid to the enormous sums raised and spent by candidates in both parties. Some focus is given to the carnival of corporate interests that the national party conventions have become, or to “independent” groups—loosely affiliated with one party or the other—that spend outrageous sums but supposedly don’t coordinate with the candidates.

Much was made of candidate Barack Obama’s supposed reliance on small, grass-roots donors to fuel his campaign. But Obama also raised as much from large donors as did George W. Bush in 2004, according to Common Cause.

That watchdog group’s list of individuals associated with leading financial companies who gave last year to joint party-candidate fundraising committees is a Who’s Who of the financial crisis: Leading Democratic donors were from Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Lehman Brothers. The Republican list includes JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley.

Read this, and weep. Understand that unless the current campaign finance and lobbying systems are demolished—not deftly “reformed”—few public aspirations can survive being smothered by cold cash.
   
Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.
   
© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group


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godistwaddle's avatar

By godistwaddle, October 13, 2009 at 8:50 am Link to this comment

We don’t expect whores to be purer than their pimps.  Why expect politicians to be purer than the corporations who pimp them out to pretend to please us?

Report this

By bEHOLD_tHE_mATRIX, October 13, 2009 at 8:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I repost a comment to Huffy Post from a few months
ago:

Forget the town hall meetings, letters, calls and
emails.  K Street operators are the foreplayers,
lubricant spreading, thigh opening, phallic weilding
John’s-of-the-Night that move legislation to orgasmic
completion.  The prostitutes of Congress find willing
clients with cash in hand to finance their mainlining
power addictions at these bawdy K Street haunts. 
There are even classes in the back where ambitious legislative
sporting lads and ladies can learn the fine point$ of
becoming one of these well-endowed clientèle should
the luster on their political beauty dull with time.

Just leave the money on the table, honey.

Report this

By walt, October 13, 2009 at 8:28 am Link to this comment

Shift ... I don’t get your comment really. This is the fault of American MEN?

Report this

By Jim Yell, October 13, 2009 at 7:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Legally corporate campaign contributions should be recognized as bribes and punished by law, as should cozy book deals for books no one can be paid to read and cozy job offers that do not require the hired to do any work, just look pretty behind a desk while their staffs do the work they are ignorant of.

And if you aren’t mad yet, remember that one of those wonderful Republicans endorsed the Great American Health Care System. One needs to remember that as a Senator he gets great socialized medical care paid for by American Citizens who have no health care and no chance of ever earning the huge compensation and insurance we give a Senator supposedly for the sacrifice they give to work for the common good—-Good Grief!

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By ardee, October 13, 2009 at 4:55 am Link to this comment

Shift, October 13 at 6:53 am

How about a word for the other 50% of us?

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, October 13, 2009 at 3:53 am Link to this comment

The politicians play both sides of the street.  I’ve been saying for months that there are certain hot-button issues that guarantee massive corporate contributions and can be milked forever.  We’ve been trying to reform health care for over 70 years and still can’t get it done.  Pols raise an issue which generates massive corporate contributions and then the issue gets massaged a bit but never really solved.  In that way, it can be ginned up again in a few years for another round of money.  It is a great gig for the politicians.  And we get screwed over and over by these bastards.  These issues will never be solved as long as we have this system (which is the result of several rounds of campaign finance reform ... get the picture?)

Report this

By Shift, October 13, 2009 at 3:53 am Link to this comment

Corporations and Government do not FEAR the people.  Until that changes the abuse will only get worse.  American men are beer swilling football worshiping woosies.  They lack the knowledge and courage to meet their citizenship responsibilities.  American men lack the will to follow the strong leadership necessary to make the needed changes, so leadership too remains silent.  It gets worse than that.  Men will sign up and fight for the benefit of the oligarchs and empire in foreign lands.  They do not have the sense to know they are fighting for American Fascism and against their own best interests.  American men today are NOT independent thinkers and cower behind an uneasy silence.  This system will not change until the abusers create an environment too harsh to ignore, and this they always do.  The hour is approaching.

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By Inherit The Wind, October 13, 2009 at 3:48 am Link to this comment

Am I missing something?  Under the Rove/DeLay K Street Plan for a perpetual Republican majority, lobbyists and contributors would not even get access to Republican lawmakers if they gave any money to Democrats.  This put the GOP squarely in the driver’s seat of Who Has Control.

Now, the Democrats, who run things and can do the SAME DAMN THING are kow-towing to the big money interests and it’s clear THEY, not the Dems are Who Has Control.

Do the Democrats understand NOTHING about wielding power anymore?

Report this

By walt, October 13, 2009 at 3:47 am Link to this comment

“An honest politician is one who when he is bought, stays bought”
- Simon Cameron, Abe Lincoln’s Secretary of War

“inured” is the word that stays with me after reading this piece. “The public
seems to have become inured.”

Our democracy has been pulled so far our of our reach that we now simply
accept it all and resign our destinies to the “Powers That Be” as they used to be
called. Permanently embedded, perpetually in control, they establish the
dialogue, they determine the field of play, they define the terms.

How shocking and aggravating was it early on in this “debate” to hear our
elected officials wryly state “Single Payer is Off the Table.” At that time, a
majority of Americans favored it. Right or wrong as a solution, it never saw the
light of day. It was unilaterally taken “off the table” before anyone even sat
down. We didn’t take it off. Our patronizing “Government” did. And not on our
behalf, but on behalf of their employers, which we once naively thought was us.

The only thing that seems to motivate is the pointless expression of Howard
Beal-like rage. When he and his acolytes scream “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not
going to take it anymore!” one is always inclined to ask, “So what are you going
to do next?” There is no second act for the tea-baggers and Fox’s Sept 12
demonstrators. Their expressions are simply Janov screams into the dark,
empty well of our declining democracy.

Numbed is more like it. Numbed by the numbers. Dead in Wars. Dead for lack
of Health care. Dead from drugs and poverty. Just Dead, once and for all.

And what do we do? More to the point, what can we do? Vote? Write our
congresspersons? How much do these suggestions make you sneer? How
inured are you?

Report this

By ardee, October 13, 2009 at 3:08 am Link to this comment

Our system has been corrupted by the influence of money upon it. Lawmakers, despite their flowery words, are responsive only to those who fill their campaign war chests. That it cost Barack Obama 750 million dollars to win the White House job that pays $400,000/year should speak volumes to the voting public. That an average Senate race costs in the tens of millions certainly weeds out the populists and leaves only the corporatists.

The largest giveaway in American history remains the airwaves, why cannot our media donate free space and airtime to legitimate candidates for office? Removing the power of money from the equation might restore the thrust of our democracy towards the needs of the people. Of course, that is precisely why it will not happen.

Report this

By samosamo, October 12, 2009 at 11:58 pm Link to this comment

You will definitely have to get rid of the lobbyists because they are certified
criminals as they bribe members of congress and the judiciary to obtain their ends
for their handlers and AGAIN I ask you, IF YOU CAN"T TAKE A WAD OF CASH AND
SOME BULLSHIT OF A WRITTEN BILL to get what you want to favor your agendas, 
and you most probably can’t, what in the fuck is wrong here?

One big obstacle here is the judiciary, the supreme court,  because they are being
bribed to judge in the favor of those with the most cash and here again I ask, IS
TH|IS THE WAY A DEMOCRACY of a republic works?

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