Saturday, June 19, 2010

A government of the dollar, by the dollar and for the dollar

The banking industry, especially Big Banking, isn't very popular amongst the voters, yet Congress is "finding" it difficult to pass through any meaningful and effective reform that targets the excesses and deregulation that nearly made the Great Depression seem not so great as the Big Dipper Recession we're now experiencing in all industrialized countries world wide.

Similarly, the Drill Baby Drill crowd and the fossil fuel industry, especially Big Oil, isn't very popular at the moment amongst the voters, yet Congress and the administration is "finding" it difficult to say or do much to take any meaningful and effective measures to target the free reign and sham regulation of the oil industry that made the Exxon Valdez look like spilled milk compared to the Deepwater Doodoo.

But if the disgusted voters are not able to make their sentiments known, what is holding them back?

Big Money.

Lotsa Big Money from Big Banks, Big Oil, and Big Pharma, spread, like farmers fertilizing their fields, by lobbyists and their phony phinancial phronts. That and the Business-as-Usual state of governance that passes for our elected leadership in Congress.

Donations Create a Tricky Balance for Oil-State Politicians

For the last decade, the oil industry has been one of the most powerful lobbying constituencies in Washington. It has spent nearly a billion dollars on federal lobbying since 1998, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, making it the sixth-biggest industry in terms of expenditures.

In the current election cycle, the oil and gas industry has contributed $12.8 million to Congressional candidates, with 71 percent of it going to Republicans.

The outburst by Representative Joe L. Barton of Texas in support of BP underscored the potential peril for lawmakers forced to respond to crises involving industries vital to their regions, and whose bountiful donations finance their political campaigns.

But in going after Republicans, the Democrats’ attacks gloss over a more complicated picture.

The largest beneficiary of campaign donations from BP in the 2008 election cycle, for instance, was President Obama, who took in $77,000 from company executives and its political action committee. This year, Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas and chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, leads all candidates with $286,000 in donations from oil and gas companies.

And while Democrats have pounced on Mr. Barton for accusing Mr. Obama of conducting a “shakedown” by demanding that BP set up a $20 billion fund for oil spill claims, a number of Democratic lawmakers — especially those from oil-producing Gulf states — have struggled to balance their criticism of BP with support for the industry.

Officials like Senator Mary L. Landrieu and Representative Charlie Melancon, both Democrats of Louisiana, have demanded accountability for BP and reparations for individuals and businesses who may face financial catastrophe. But they have also fought to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling imposed by the Obama administration after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, saying it is crippling the local economy.

Both Ms. Landrieu and Mr. Melancon, who is running for a Senate seat, receive substantial donations from the oil and gas industry, which is hardly surprising given the industry’s big presence in Louisiana. For her campaigns, Ms. Landrieu has taken in $751,000 since 1996, while Mr. Melancon has received $312,000 since 2004.

To put this in the broader context that Guambat began this post, the NYT piece notes,
The tightrope walk faced by elected officials from oil and gas states is similar to the New York delegation’s struggles when it comes to legislation to regulate Wall Street banks, or the New Jersey delegation’s sensitivity on legislation related to the pharmaceutical industry.

“You’ve got this conflict for these folks where they acknowledge the spill is a problem but, with the significant support they get from the industry, are a heck of a lot more reluctant to take aggressive legislative action against the company,” said Tyson Slocum, who runs the energy program at Public Citizen, a political research and advocacy group.

In a democratic system of government, it's one person, one vote.

In the corporate world of "democracy", it's one dollar, one vote.

Big Money reflexively and diligently pursues its own sense of democracy on the People's government. For a while, the people had managed a very small curb on the Big Voice of Big money and its One Dollar, One Vote philosophy of commercial democracy.

But the Supreme Court nominees of the Bush family have now also cut back on the effectiveness of the One Person, One Vote philosophy of political democracy by giving the Big Money the vote. They've given the purely legally fictional corporate "persons" the equal protection of real, human beings.

Supreme Court's campaign finance ruling: just the facts
On Jan. 21, the US Supreme Court announced a landmark decision establishing for the first time that corporations enjoy the same First Amendment free-speech rights as individuals.

On one side, liberal reformers have sought to limit the influence of wealthy corporate interests by emphasizing the importance of maintaining a "level playing field." If American democracy is based on the principle of one person, one vote, they say, then corporations must be muzzled during political campaigns to prevent their amassed wealth from dominating and corrupting a political campaign.

Conservatives and libertarians, on the other hand, have countered that limiting the amount of money a corporation – or anyone – can spend to make their political point is censorship and a violation of the letter and spirit of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech.

Lest we go down any path toward thinking this is just a Republican thing, consider this.

Did Democrats' deal with the NRA kill campaign finance reform?
The derailing this week of the House Disclose Act gave Republicans – still reeling from Rep. Joe Barton’s “apology” to BP CEO Tony Hayward this week – a rare chance to gloat about the pitfalls of cozying up to special interests.

“Van Hollen’s carve-out for special interests has proven about as popular as first-time World Cup ref Koman Coulibaly’s blown call today, which cost the United States a victory,” said House Republican whip Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia in a blog today. His barb was aimed at Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

At issue is a deal brokered by the House Democratic leadership to exempt the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) and others from disclosure requirements in a new campaign finance law. The legislation aimed to restore campaign finance limits stripped away by a controversial 5-4 US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which scrapped restrictions on when and how much corporations and unions can spend to influence elections.

The NRA initially backed the Supreme Court decision.

“This ruling is a victory for anyone who believes that the First Amendment applies to each and every one of us,” said NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre in a statement on Jan. 21. “This is a defeat for arrogant elitists who wanted to carve out free speech as a privilege for themselves and deny it to the rest of us; and for those who believed that speech had a dollar value and should be treated and regulated like currency, and not a freedom.

On May 26, the NRA had announced opposition to the bill as “intimidating speech,” but dropped opposition after the carveout.

The proposed law would ban some corporations from funding campaign ads and require others to disclose their top five donors in ads and on their websites.

“We believe voters have an absolute right to know who is spending money to try to influence their vote. And this will prevent big special interests from hiding behind front organizations, sham entities, to try and hide from the voter what they're doing. Nobody, nobody should be afraid of this transparency unless they have something to hide,” said Rep. Van Hollen in a press conference introducing the act on April 29.

But cribbing from President Obama’s playbook in cutting early deals with pharmaceutical companies and other potential opponents to move health care legislation, Democrats this week cut deals exempting the NRA as well as the Sierra Club, the Humane Society, and AARP from disclosure requirements in the bill.

“The political, special-interest nature of the legislation is reflected in the recent addition to the bill of the NRA exemption," says R. Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist for the US Chamber of Commerce.

“This ad hoc carve-out is specifically tailored to exempt the National Rifle Association from the bill’s key restrictions and burdens. The admitted purpose was to end the NRA’s opposition to the bill to secure passage,” he adds. “This is clear and unconstitutional discrimination in favor of one speaker and against others.”

Guambat was considering settling in with a warm cuppa tea to contemplate this when he realized how cozy he was beginning to get with the leanings of the Tea Party. So he grabbed a big jug of moonshine and went out onto the porch to watch the Green Flash of the sun setting over the Philippine Sea.

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