The Money that Really DOES Corrupt the Political Process

No government has a press on which you can print wealth.

But lots of well-connected folks know how to get their share of the wealth government takes from the economy.

Nancy PelosiRobert_Menendez,_official_Senate_photoYesterday I went on something of a rant, provoked in part by a Ron Fournier piece, news about the GM/Chevy Cobalt recall, and widespread (and sometimes awesomely hysterical) reaction to the Supremes’ campaign finance ruling (McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission).

Some examples

Andy Borowitz, New Yorker: Supreme court defends wealthy’s right to own government:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—By a five-to-four decision, the United States Supreme Court today defended the right of the wealthiest Americans to own the United States government.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts summarized the rationale behind the Court’s decision: “In recent years, this Court has done its level best to remove any barriers preventing the wealthiest in our nation from owning our government outright. And while the few barriers that remained were flimsy at best, it was high time that they be shredded as well.”

Citing the United States Constitution, Justice Roberts wrote, “Our founding fathers created the most magnificent democracy in human history. Now, thanks to this decision, the dream of owning that democracy is a reality.”

Justice Antonin Scalia also weighed in, telling reporters at the Court, “After all the pro-gay decisions we’ve been making around here lately, it was nice to finally have a win for the good guys.”

Wait.

I think that’s satire or irony or something that’s supposed to be funny.

I think.

Heh.

David Earley, Salon: Scalia’s new disaster: Why McCutcheon decision is scarier than Citizens United:

The Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which could come down as soon as today, will be the most important money-in-politics ruling since 2010’s Citizens United. Though the latter significantly increased the amount of money in our elections, McCutcheon could make things even worse — by further inundating a political system already flush with cash, marginalizing average voters and elevating those who can afford to buy political access.

Freedom of speech is at the core of any free democratic society. But when large political donations threaten to drown out the voices and influence of ordinary citizens, such contributions are rightly limited. Although a decision upholding the aggregate limits would not cure all the ills currently plaguing the campaign finance system, it would help prevent the tide of cash from rising even more quickly. The court should uphold the aggregate contribution limits to help ensure a place in our democracy for everyone.

These snippets were written before the decision was announced, and there was an update above what I’ve included here.

Did you notice Scalia’s name in the headline? Click here and you’ll see they’ve included a giant picture of a laughing Scalia, completely filling the top of the article.

Scalia didn’t write the opinion. Chief Justice Roberts did.

Two lines from my excerpt I want to call to your attention:

  • “[B]y further inundating a political system already flush with cash, marginalizing average voters and elevating those who can afford to buy political access.”
  • “The court should uphold the aggregate contribution limits to help ensure a place in our democracy for everyone.” [Note this was written before the ruling was announced.]

Does Earley really think that? Is he really defending “average voters” and ensuring “a place in our democracy for everyone”?

Or is he defending the status quo, which is dominated by cash-flush rent seekers, compulsory dues collectors, and crony capitalists?

Nancy Pelosi:

Former Speaker of the House Pelosi, you may recall, is no stranger to money in politics, as Steve Croft and 60 Minutes uncovered in 2011 (Congress: Trading stock on inside information?):

 The next national election is now less than a year away and congressmen and senators are expending much of their time and their energy raising the millions of dollars in campaign funds they’ll need just to hold onto a job that pays $174,000 a year.

Few of them are doing it for the salary and all of them will say they are doing it to serve the public. But there are other benefits: Power, prestige, and the opportunity to become a Washington insider with access to information and connections that no one else has, in an environment of privilege where rules that govern the rest of the country, don’t always apply to them.

Most former congressmen and senators manage to leave Washington – if they ever leave Washington – with more money in their pockets than they had when they arrived, and as you are about to see, the biggest challenge is often avoiding temptation.

Schweizer: If you were a senator, Steve, and I gave you $10,000 cash, one or both of us is probably gonna go to jail. But if I’m a corporate executive and you’re a senator, and I give you IPO shares in stock and over the course of one day that stock nets you $100,000, that’s completely legal.

 

And former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband have participated in at least eight IPOs. One of those came in 2008, from Visa, just as a troublesome piece of legislation that would have hurt credit card companies, began making its way through the House. Undisturbed by a potential conflict of interest the Pelosis purchased 5,000 shares of Visa at the initial price of $44 dollars. Two days later it was trading at $64. The credit card legislation never made it to the floor of the House.

Bob Menendez:

Sen. Menendez brings a unique perspective to the subject of money in politics.

John Bresnahan, Politico: Report: Feds probe Bob Menendez on Ecuador banker links:

FBI agents are reportedly looking into Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez’s dealings with two fugitive Ecuadorean bankers, according to a New York City TV station.

WNBC in New York — citing anonymous sources — reported on Thursday evening that the New Jersey senator contacted the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department on behalf of William and Roberto Isaias Dassum. The brothers are fighting extradition to Ecuador over charges that they allegedly embezzled tens of millions of dollars from the country’s largest bank before it failed and had to be rescued by the Ecuadorean government.

The brothers were convicted in absentia in 2012, but a Florida court refused to allow the Ecuadorean government to seize $20 million in assets the Dassums held in the United States. Ecuador has already confiscated $400 million worth of property owned by the brothers back home, including media companies.

According to WNBC, Menendez contacted Homeland Security in April 2012 on the brothers’ behalf.

WNBC said family members of the fugitives donated $10,000 to Menendez’s successful 2012 relection campaign, as well as $100,000 to the Democratic Party.

Menendez is already the subject of a federal criminal probe into his dealings with Dr. Salomon Melgen, a close friend and financial backer.

Cory Booker

Eliana Johnson, National Review Online: How Cory Booker’s Friends Made Out Like Bandits:

New Jersey state senator Ron Rice, a Democrat, calls it “Newark-gate.” He is referring to a state comptroller’s report that details how a contractor swindled the city out of millions in public funds, and to the larger culture of “white-collar crime” that he says former Newark mayor Cory Booker allowed to flourish on his watch.

For over a month now, Rice and one of his colleagues, Republican state senator Sam Thompson, have been calling for the New Jersey Legislative Select Committee on Investigation, which is currently investigating the Bridgegate scandal, to look into the “government abuses of power and cover-ups” they say occurred in the seven years that Cory Booker — now New Jersey’s U.S. senator — served as mayor of the Brick City.

But hey, let’s all pile on those Koch brothers.

What they don’t want you to know: the money that really is corrupting politics

Stephen Moore, National Review Online: Corporate-Welfare Queens:

This week an Illinois-based watchdog group, Open the Books, issued a new report that scrupulously tallies up all federal grants, loans, direct payments, and insurance subsidies flowing to individuals and companies. It examined all accounts from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Transportation and found that corporate-welfare payments from the federal government to the Fortune 100 companies, from 2000 to 2012, amounted to $1.2 trillion. I recommend a visit to the website openthebooks.com, if you can stomach it.

That $1.2 trillion number does not include the hundreds of billions of dollars in housing, bank, and auto-company bailouts in 2008 and 2009, because those payments are kept mostly invisible in the federal-agency books. It also doesn’t include the asset purchases of the Federal Reserve, indirect subsidies such as the ethanol mandate that enriches large agribusinesses like Archer Daniels Midland, or special tax breaks for wind and solar manufacturers.

Most of the payments Open the Books uncovered were contracts between government agencies and private firms. The largest of these are military-procurement deals with such firms as Lockheed Martin ($392 billion), General Dynamics ($170 billion), and United Technologies ($73 billion). At least taxpayers get services in exchange for these tax dollars. Still, the overall size of the government-industrial complex makes it all the harder to cut federal spending, because the recipients of all this money become high-roller lobbying forces for higher appropriations.

Far less defensible is the $21.3 billion that was doled out in the form of outright income-transfer subsidies to corporate America. On average, each
Fortune 100 company received about $200 million in such handouts. So who are the major corporate-welfare queens? The biggest grant recipients were
General Electric ($380 million), followed by General Motors ($370 million), Boeing ($264 million), Archer Daniels Midland ($174 million), and United Technologies ($160 million).

About $8.5 billion of this largesse came in the form of taxpayer-subsidized loans. The big winners here were Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Ford Motor Company, and other multibillion-dollar corporations whose franchisees received Small Business Administration loans.

Double- and triple-dipper Archer Daniels Midland got just under $1 billion for USDA farm-program loans, and this doesn’t include ethanol subsidies. Another $10 billion was doled out through federal insurance, often in the form of surety bonds. The No. 1 federal insurance program was the Export-Import Bank, with Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase both receiving more than $3 billion in such aid and Citigroup and Bank of America receiving more than $1.5 billion in taxpayer backstop insurance. (Remember, this doesn’t include TARP money.) Deere, American Express, and even Walmart reeled in federal insurance as well. Amazingly, all but one of the Fortune 100 stood in the federal soup line to take at least some form of corporate-welfare benefit. In other words, as Open the Books founder Adam Andrzejewski puts it: “Mitt Romney had it wrong. When it comes to the Fortune 100, it’s 99 percent, not 47 percent, on some form of the government’s gravy train.”

Uncle Sam could save billions of dollars a year if it just limited corporate welfare to any firm with profits of $1 million or even $10 million or less and prevented double-dipping by prohibiting the Fortune 100 from receiving more than one form of federal assistance at a time.

Uncle Sam could also restore integrity and accountability to The People’s government, because—for all the righteous expressions of horror at a political system awash in corrupting cash—the true corruption is in the expenditures of big government.

Financed by tax payers.

In other words, the money that really is corrupting politics—the money that government spreads around like manure in a mushroom factory—doesn’t come from fat cats like the Koch brothers.

Or from a magic government printing press.

It comes from you and me.

How to take the money out of politics?

Radically shrink the size of government.

End corporate welfare.

Restore liberty.

Bam!

Money out of politics.

Because if there’s nothing for sale, there will be no buyers.

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