Money Buys Political Power
With the recent criminal
investigations into the Enron Corporation, our need for campaign finance
reform has become even clearer. As the
justice department attempts to discover
whether or not the company's campaign contributions have influenced the
policies of the current white house administration, we must ask
ourselves whether this is a common occurrence or an isolated incident.
Without assuming what will come out of the
Enron investigations, we can recognize that there are a
number of important issues raised: Is it fair that candidates vote
according to the wishes of their contributors? Do contributions
give such donors more access to politicians?
The executive branch: How the presidentís donors are paid in full: The president has
the ability to draft legislation and then present it to congress for a
vote. Most notably, President George W. Bush asked congress to
take a look at his Economic Stimulus Plan. He claims that it would
give businesses tax breaks and bailouts in order to help them pay off
creditors, and prevent them from laying off thousands of workers.
However, under the original draft of the plan that was passed by the
House of Representatives, large amounts of money would have ended up in
the hands of very few, namely, those who had donated substantial funds
to the president and the republican party(1). For example, Chevron
Texaco has given the republican party more than $5.2 million since 1990.
Under Bush' stimulus plan, they stood to receive around $572 million in
the form of a retroactive tax cut. Enron has given $5.5 million
during the same period, and they stood to receive $254 million.
General electric stood to receive over $600 million in return for there
contributions of less than $2 million. The list could go on
extensively. It seems obvious that the money spent to get a
candidate elected is much less than the eventual pay backs.
If this is not bad enough, the package approved by
the House also gives a tax break on foreign profits to
companies such as Merrill Lynch and Citigroup. Not only is this
problematic because of the large returns these companies receive from
their investments into certain candidates or political parties, as the
Washington Post reported, "it's hard to see how this measure would do
anything to stimulate the American economy.'' This bill directly
demonstrates the powerful impact that can be made by large donations to
political parties. Not only will candidates reward their donors
with large pay backs, they are even willing to do so at the expense of
our nation during its time of need.
Congressional Branch: Where profits meet
partisanship: The influence of donors works similarly
in congress. Just as the president, a congressman can submit
legislation for vote. Also in the same way, the legislation is
often based upon the wishes of a congressmanís donors. Members of
congress can show the influence of their donors by adding various
amendments - that may seem totally irrelevant - to legislation that is
often urgently needed (disaster relief aid, for example).
This is when the need for campaign finance
reform becomes most evident. The aforementioned
Economic Stimulus Package was passed by the republican majority in the
House of Representatives, most of whom share the same donors as the
president. That version of the bill was defeated in the
democratic-controlled Senate. When donors exert their influence
over the legislative branch, congress becomes full of partisan
bickering. The entire process begins to take on the tone of
"you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours," until one side ends up ahead.
The needs of the people are never placed first.
Again, this is not an isolated incident.
After the recent acts of terrorism, it became obvious that our nation
was not prepared to deal with such large scale attacks. In
response to the threat of bioterrorism, both the Senate and the House
drafted legislation to stockpile the nationís supply of vaccines. The
sponsors of this bill were Billy Tauzin (R-LA.) and John Dingell (D-MA)
in the House, and Bill Frist (R-TN) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in the
senate. They have all received large contributions from
pharmaceutical companies and healthcare agencies ($35,000; $32,000;
$116,000; $75,000 in 2000 respectively)(2).
Obviously, there could be a need for
these vaccines. And in such a case, it would be much better
to be safe than sorry. But the pharmaceutical companies are using
excuse to lobby for deregulation of the industry, and this is something
that will not affect bioterrorism. This is something driven, not
by a desire to help the American people, but by a desire to profit.
In the House Energy Plan, H.R. 4, the
controversial measure to open up parts of the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling was included(3). This measureís
passing is largely due to the substantial donations made by the oil
industry to the republican controlled house and the president.
Even so, representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), John W. Olver (D- MA)
and Wayne T. Gilchrest ģ -MD) - none of whom receive much, if any, money
from the oil industry - stood against the drilling and gave examples of
more profitable, and environmentally sound ways of curbing our nations
need for oil(4). Their proposals intended to require auto
manufactures to make sport utility vehicles and light trucks meet the
same fuel efficiency standards as cars by 2007. This plan would
significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and would save over a
million barrels of oil per day, which is the maximum amount of oil that
President Bush thought could be gained from the Arctic drilling.
The one million barrel per day savings does not
even take into consideration an additional proposal to
increase fuel efficiency in cars. In this situation, it can't be
doubted that the big oil companies have the president and the house of
representatives firmly clasped in the palm of their hands. There
is no way that a government so entrenched in a system of donations and
pay backs, and so loyal to the will of an industry, can produce
legislation that is drafted in the best interest of the people.
(1) According to Common Cause and
Citizens for Tax Justice, mentioned in congressional records S11932, a
speech by Senator Feingold.
(2) This, and all financial data, is received from the Center for
Responsible Politics, Rpt. www.opensecrets.org
unless otherwise stated.
(3) HR.4.IH, SAFE Act of 2001, Division F, Title V, sec. 6502-3
(4) House Documents H2716 - H2717
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