Ever wonder why no matter whom we send to Washington we get the same results consistently favoring large corporations and the wealthy elite to the detriment of the public interest? The power of corporate lobbyists has become so pervasive that it overwhelms all countervailing forces. How did this come about? I’ll tell you, and it’s not very reassuring.
Throughout U.S. history our political representation has usually leaned toward business interests. But public interest groups and organized labor were also well-represented. But in 1972 this quasi-equilibrium came to an end with the creation of the Business Roundtable. This is an organization of high-level business executives devoted exclusively to cultivating and exerting political influence for corporate interests. It was then that most businesses hired their first lobbyists. And the results were almost immediate. They soon saw they were able to weaken labor reform laws, neutralize regulation, lower corporate taxes and cultivate a favorable public opinion toward business. This was contrary to prevailing wisdom which had long advised corporations to avoid politics wherever possible.
Today the largest companies frequently have over 100 lobbyists to represent them in Washington. Their hefty budgets allow them to spend $34 for every dollar spent by organized labor and public interest groups combined. Prior to the 1970s most firms lobbied through their trade organizations, but today lobbying has become an enterprise within itself. This country has not experienced a comparative time of dominance by the wealthy since the robber barons ran amok during the Gilded Age in the late nineteenth century.
Although the true number of registered lobbyists operating in the nation’s capital in the year 2000 was actually more than today (12,543-11,502), the total spending has more than doubled during that same period ($1.57 billion-$3.36 billion).
Probably the most profitable and most singularly anti-public interest accomplishment of the Washington lobbying establishment was the addition of Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, to Medicare. Sounds progressive so far. But here’s the rub. This bill specifically denies the cheaper bulk purchasing benefit to the government, and ultimately to us. This standard benefit and incentive is available to all other large purchasers. Then what’s so different about the government as a consumer? It is estimated this arbitrary denial will cost the American taxpayers $205 billion dollars over a ten-year period. And it happened right under our very noses with scarcely a whimper of protest from anyone.
AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), an innocuous enough sounding title, is actually one of the most secretive and politically powerful lobbies in Washington. Although its true structure, budget and purpose remain mostly a mystery, it is said that no American policy or action affecting the Middle East takes place without AIPAC’s input. As a foreign agency AIPAC cannot contribute directly to American political campaigns. But they can apply pressure to American Jews to shell out. And they do, in spades.
Is the average American voter without a voice today? If just half of our electorate would donate ten dollars a year to their political party we could easily bring these rascals home and take back our government (assuming we ever had it). And as I’ve said before, the billionaire Koch Brothers and you and I have the same basic political power: one vote.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at email@example.com.