The United States of Political Corruption via Citizens United

The framers (I just can’t bring myself to call them the Founding Fathers…some of them were only seventeen years old) debated the consequences of political corruption at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and Americans have been arguing about it ever since…until Citizens United.citizens_united

What were once called bribes or graft, gifts to politicians are now called contributions, thanks to the worst Supreme Court ruling of the last two centuries, Citizens United. The Supreme Court has not only selectively granted corporations the rights the founders reserved for people, they granted those corporations carte blanche to go to whatever extremes necessary and to give any amount they want to elect politicians favorable to their interests. Diamond and gold snuff boxes, like the one Benjamin Franklin was forced to refuse as ambassador to France for fear of just appearing to be influenced, are as outmoded as the king’s powdered wig. Today we’re talking cash — millions upon millions of dollars, and that’s just from the Koch Brothers. What idiot cannot see that millions of dollars contributed to anyone, much less a politician’s war chest, won’t affect that politician’s stances on matters of legislating rendering service for the people of the U.S. a secondary consideration? If having contributions to war chests quadrupled, quintupled and then some is not considered the yellow brick road for corruption then what in the hell is it?

Consider the report from the watchdog Sunlight Foundation: From 2007 to 2012, the two hundred most politically active corporations in the United States spent almost $6 billion for lobbying and campaign contributions. And they received more than $4 trillion in US government contracts and other forms of assistance. That’s $760 in contract income for every dollar spent on influence, a spectacular return on investment.

Peter Overby at National Public Radio reported that “Military contractors lead the list of contract recipients, and they are consistently in the upper ranks of companies with the biggest campaign contributions.” Raytheon, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin – all of them made hefty political donations to Republican campaigns. Not coincidentally, this year the Pentagon is due to spend $163 billion on research, development and procurement. How can that kind of money not influence a politician making $174,000 a year?

Even before Citizens United, our government was a clearing house for the upper 1% of wealthy donors, corporations and plutocrats whose dollars grease the palms of politicians for lucrative contracts and easy regulations, primarily in the areas of defense. A full 36% of military equipment scrapped from 2013 through the end of 2014 was new or never used. Just last summer, despite GOP calls for austerity in virtually every other category of government spending from Environmental Protection, Education, etc., the GOP-run House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a one-year $570 billion spending bill that saves ships and aircraft despite pleas from senior Pentagon military officers for reductions because they were neither needed nor even wanted.

How can anyone fail to see what the reasons for this amount of government cash expenditures must be for when our own military hierarchy is pleading not to burden them with more unnecessary equipment that will just end up on a scrap heap?  It is political quid pro quo at its most obvious.

“The other dominant corporate sector is finance,” Overby said. “Some of the country’s biggest financial institutions — Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and others — are the top recipients of federal aid. That’s because it cost so much to rescue the financial sector after the 2008 market crash.” And in December 2014, Congress officially put the U.S. taxpayer on the front line of bailout money should we have a repeat of the banking fiasco of 2007.

Throw in the health insurers, media and telecommunications, retailers, Big Pharma, Monsanto– it not surprising that lobbying is the road to financial Nirvana for a Congress that only works 123 days out of a 365-day year and has voted for itself pensions and healthcare for life.

But don’t think for a minute that this cash stream flows in only one direction. The conventional wisdom is that businesses are going to Washington, writing checks and expecting big returns, but members of Congress may implicitly threaten businesses that if they don’t change their policy, or if they are not heavily involved in the political process…you know, “that bad things might happen to them.” In essence making businesses feel as if they are now permanently subscribed in deals that can’t be refused….protection payments if you will. And it’s no different from sending thugs in dark suits and sunglasses into local businesses and demanding payments for “protection”.

Don’t think for a minute that Democrats are immune or otherwise not participating in this newfound legal protection racket. They have become compromised by their own dependence on Big Money that they have forgotten their history as champion of the working stiff.

It’s all pay for play, and look the other way. Members of the political corruption system say, hey, it’s just business as usual, but that, of course, is exactly the core of the problem. I was stunned by this headline in The Washington Post after the November elections: “Parties head back to Capitol to begin carving up spoils, remains from midterms.” Right: This  is not the assignations of leadership posts and committee chairmanships like back in the days of a functioning Congresses that cared about their constituency. Now, it includes dividing up the spoils and “divvying up the loot”, which, thanks to Citizens United, are those exorbitant contributions to campaigns or PACS. Candidates now have to “audition” for the campaign dollars from the Sheldon Adelsons and Koch Brothers who routinely invest in political returns on investment.

Once upon a time the GOP stood for Grand Old Party — now it simply stands for Guardians of Privilege, and this current GOP Congress is intent on returning favors for the major contributions by favoring everything from fracking to getting the big banks off the hook; from doing away with the minimum wage and coddling off-shore corporate tax avoiders to privatizing Medicare and Social Security; to gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency, even the US Postal Service to privatizing Medicare, which would be the mother lode for chosen Big Insurance and Big Pharma.

And remarkably, that’s just for starters. House Speaker John Boehner is governing as one might expect from the man who once literally doled out checks from the tobacco industry to members on the floor for favorable votes. And Mitch McConnell, finally in his dream job as Senate Majority Leader, is already manipulating the Capitol Hill lobbying process that he has mastered – helped along by the clever placement of loyal former staff members in positions of influence– who are assisting him in the release of favors to donors with the big bucks.

Democrats, meanwhile, are so compromised by their own addiction to Big Money they have forgotten their history as champion of the working stiff, the little folks, the “Big Tent” constituency. The great problems facing everyday people in America – inequality, stagnant wages, children in poverty, our (literally) crumbling infrastructure — are not being seriously addressed because the political class is afraid to offend the people who write the big checks. It’s just that simple. And the same Supreme Court that granted marriage equality, and healthcare for millions, opened the money floodgate without a moments concern for the democratic process, the Constitutional rights of ordinary Americans having as much sway over politicians as the privileged class of donors, or the consequences that putting the political process in America up for sale to the highest bidder(s).

Do not kid yourself…the rest of us, arguing on Facebook, Twitter, political forums, can be and are being ignored.

Harvey Gold