By Anisha Sehgal
During election season, Americans across the country hear politicians make grand statements on how they will look out for the good, hard-working people of their state and push for progress that will benefit us all. As we watch them head off to Washington we expect or at least hope that they will deliver on their promises and act in a manner that looks out for our best interests.
However, a recent Public Citizen report on the role of corporate money in politics has revealed the strong influence donations can have on swaying lawmakers’ support on big issues. We are in the midst of a contentious debate regarding the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) proposed Medicare Part B demonstration, a proposal strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry. Public Citizen’s new study reveals that members of Congress who opposed or were critical of the reform on average received 82% more in campaign contributions for the 2016 election cycle from the pharmaceutical and health products industry than rank and file members who did not take a stance against the reform.
Last week Public Citizen was proud to join Senate Democrats to announce a new policy agenda to curtail big money’s influence in elections.
Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, joined nine senators and other progressive organizations outside the Capitol to debut a package of commonsense policies that will bring the voices of the people back to the electoral process.
Some of the parts of the #WeThePeople agenda would:
- Demand transparency from corporations, trade associations, and tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups that are playing in politics while keeping their donors secret;
- Close unethical lobbying loopholes that give special interests special access to government officials through lax lobbyist registration policies;
- Better enforce existing campaign finance laws by creating a new agency to serve as a campaign finance watchdog to hold candidates accountable;
- Slam shut the “revolving door” between Wall Street and Washington – a practice which rewards former bankers for taking roles in government in the very agencies that are meant to protect Main Street from Wall Street recklessness; and
- Overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision by constitutional amendment.
In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s appalling Citizens United ruling, Corporate America’s attempts to exert undue influence and block reform efforts in the U.S. Congress are nothing new.
A new report offers fresh evidence that Big Business has its sights set on our justice system too. State Supreme Court elections are the prime targets for corporate interests’ effort to control state benches. The motive: stack the courts with “business-friendly” judges. The implications are hard to overstate and deeply scary.
The report, Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14, was produced by three nonpartisan organizations: Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
We’ve just seen the worst that Washington has to offer with the “cromnibus” government spending bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last night.
Instead of Congress passing a clean funding bill along lines that were previously agreed to and had bipartisan acceptance, Big Business exercised its insider influence and took advantage of an artificially rushed and secretive process to cut deals to enhance the political influence of the super-rich, put taxpayers on the hook – again – for Wall Street recklessness and make our roads less safe.
Moneyed interests maneuvered to eviscerate campaign spending rules, so that a super-rich couple may now contribute up to $3 million to a national political party in a single (two-year) election cycle. It’s a certainty that this move will be followed up by calls to “level the playing field” and permit the same monstrous contributions to candidates and political committees.
Wall Street called on its friends to include a Citigroup-drafted provision that would roll back a key Dodd-Frank measure that was designed to prevent Big Banks from using taxpayer-insured money to bet in the derivatives markets. With the top four banks responsible for 93 percent of derivatives activities in the United States, there is zero question about which entities will benefit. Nor who will pay; when the next financial crisis comes – as it will, as certainly as the calendar changes – taxpayers will be forced to pay for Wall Street gambling on derivatives.
At the behest of the trucking industry, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins included in the spending bill a provision to override rules to reduce truck driver fatigue, which risks the lives of truckers and other drivers.
These are only some of the known giveaways in the spending bill. It will probably take many weeks, or longer, before all of the industry deals are discovered.
As serious and troubling as are these measures, there is reason to fear worse is to come. Even though it opposed many of these harmful provisions, the White House pushed for approval of the overall spending deal, which had to overcome substantial opposition from members of Congress in both parties. If this is the kind of “bipartisanship” we’re going to see in the coming two years, the country is facing dire prospects indeed.