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Legalized Bribery in American Politics

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-04-06 06:40 PM
Original message
Legalized Bribery in American Politics
The system of legalized bribery so prevalent in American politics today is a major threat to our democracy, next to voting machines that use secret programs to count our votes in private and a corporate news media that is allied with the corporate interests of the Republican Party.

It is a pernicious system that perpetuates itself. Big moneyed interests donate (actually invest would be a more accurate term) large amounts of money to politicians, and in return those politicians enact legislation that helps those interests to get more money, at the expense of the public, thereby enhancing their wealth and power and enabling them to continue to feed the beast.

The problem was first addressed by Congress in 1907, when it enacted the Tillman Act, which made it unlawful for any national bank, or any corporation organized by authority of any laws of Congress, to make money contribution in connection with any election to any political office The interval between then and now comprises a long history of court challenges, wealthy interests finding legislative loopholes which enable them to continue to bribe politicians, followed by more legislation, etcetera, etcetera.

Currently we operate under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, otherwise known as the McCain-Feingold bill, which accomplished some laudable goals (I think), such as banning unlimited contributions to national political parties (soft money) and unlimited use of so-called issue ads (political advertisements that did everything except actually tell you to vote for a particular candidate). However, because of various loopholes, we continue to operate under a political system of legalized bribery. Activities which may accomplish the purposes of bribery under the current system include the provision of fully paid for luxury outings (sometimes called conferences), contributions to political action committees (PACs), and the bundling of huge amounts of money for campaign contributions by powerful interests.

But why should we refer to these activities as bribery?


What constitutes bribery?

The Wikipedia defines bribery as a crime implying a sum or gift given that alters the behavior of the person in ways not consistent with the duties of that person. Another way of looking at it is that the bribe poses a conflict of interest to the recipient of the bribe, whereby that person may be compelled to do a favor for the giver of the bribe which conflicts with the legal responsibilities of the bribe recipient.

When it comes to people other than occupants of and candidates for high political office, the concepts of bribery and conflict of interest are well recognized. For example, great care is taken in picking juries to make sure that jurists do not have any attachments to any of the parties in the case that they have been chosen to judge. And I, as a federal employee working for the FDA, am not allowed to accept a gift (including meals) of greater than $20 from any member of the press or any member of an industry that is regulated by the FDA. That is a worthwhile law.

But then, why shouldnt laws against bribery apply to the occupiers of and candidates for high political office as well?


Some questions and considerations on the magnitude of the problem

Just one in a thousand adult Americans contributed $1,000 or more to any candidate in the last election, yet candidates for the 2004 presidential nomination raised more than 80 percent of their individual investments from these elites. In other words, with regard to using money to influence presidential candidates, 0.1% of Americans account for 80% of the influence. Is that democracy?

2300 energy companies lobbied Congress between 1998 and 2004, with $984 million paid for lobbyists. Why pay a lobbyist $300,000? Because its a great investment, of course. Does anyone believe the legal fiction that the purpose of a lobbyist is to educate politicians on the issues? Of course not. Those huge bucks are paid out for skilled middle-men and women to discreetly (or not so discreetly) convey the message that a politician will be handsomely rewarded for screwing over his or her constituents in favor of the lobbyists employer.

And why has the oil and gas industry contributed over $180 million to Congressional candidates since 1990 and $6 million already for the 2006 election? Could the 2005 energy bill have anything to do with that? That bill gave out billions of dollars in tax breaks, provided exemptions from the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, and relaxed regulations against the consolidation of utility companies. Did Congress vote for that bill because it felt that it was a good thing for the American people?


Money bundling

In order to skirt the McCain-Feingold law's caps on individual contributions of more than $2,000 to a single candidate in a single election, powerful interests have used money bundling. George W. Bush made especially effective use of that trick during his presidential races. Those who contributed $100,000 were deemed Bush Pioneers, and those who contributed $200,000 were deemed Bush Rangers. Certainly it makes no difference to the recipients of these donations whether or not the money is coming out of the pockets of a single individual or whether that individual merely bundled the money from a thousand other contributors. All that is important is that the recipient of the money knows who is responsible for it, and therefore whom to reward for it.

How on earth are these Bush Rangers and Pioneers able to come up with all that cash out of the pockets of other people? I have often thought about this, yet have seen no explanations. I mean, if someone wants to contribute money to the Bush campaign because they believe in his candidacy, why not just contribute it directly? Why give it to someone to use the money to become a Bush Ranger? It seems obvious to me that the Bush Rangers collect the money from people over whom they hold lots of power. In other words, the money comes from employees who understand that their future job security and career depends on those donations. I wonder if shaking down your employees for political donations is legal?


Why not just make bribery in politics illegal?

I am not against contributing to causes, whether those causes be political candidates or anything else. Probably the good majority of DUers do that. But what we do is make contributions, not bribes. What is the difference between a contribution and a bribe? When we contribute to a candidate we dont expect the candidate to do us a special favor in return, at the expense of most of the other constituents of the candidate. Rather, we contribute because we believe that the candidate will benefit our country if elected.

Then why should we believe that contributions by wealthy individuals or corporations are any different in that regard? Well, the amount of the contribution for one thing. Does anyone seriously believe that most contributions of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars are expected to go unrewarded, or that they do go unrewarded?

But beyond the issue of the amount of the donation is the plain fact that the recipient of the donation knows the identity of the donator. I put donation and donator in quotes because donating is usually not the purpose of huge contributions. Make those contributions anonymous, and just see how quickly they dry up.

Our system of legalized bribery has been defended on First Amendment grounds, with statements to the effect that our First Amendment simply cannot tolerate the restriction upon the freedom of a candidate to speak without legislative limit on behalf of his own candidacy. Well fine. Let them speak all they want, and let people contribute to their candidate of choice all they want.

But why should the identity of the donor be known to the recipient? There is no reason whatsoever that it should be known unless it is intended as a bribe. The sacred act of voting is anonymous for the very same reason. The vote is a sacred privilege in our country, and it should not be polluted by being used to curry favors or avoid retribution. Well, money translates into votes, and everyone knows that. So why should political contributions be any less anonymous than our votes?

Why not simply make it illegal to contribute money to a political candidate or office holder, for any purported purpose, under non-anonymous conditions?


The bottom line result of legalized political bribery

I have noted above one major travesty which has resulted from our system of legalized bribery the 2005 energy bill. Can anyone believe that a bill like that could pass if our Senators cared as much about pleasing the bulk of their constituents as they did about pleasing their wealthy donors from the energy industry?

The truth of the matter is that the Republican Party could not elect its candidates to office in the face of an accurate assessment of its performance and agenda by American citizens. The Republican agenda is anti-people, and very few Americans would vote for it if they understood what it is. But largely because of the money they receive from wealthy and powerful interests, Republicans are able to run political campaigns that do an effective job of concealing their true agenda (Republican alliances with our national corporate news media are also very important, but not the subject of this post.)

Americans want the Democratic agenda, not the Republican agenda. They want national health insurance. They want a minimum wage law that helps working Americans out of poverty. They want an election system that opens its vote counting to public scrutiny. They would be outraged to learn how our Republican Congress quashed a veterans health benefits bill earlier this year. But the corrupting influence of money in politics prevents them from getting those things because, as Supreme Court Justice David Souter (a moderate Republican) has said, our current system functions for the benefit of donors whose object is to place candidates under obligation

But after 24 years of power (with a two year interlude from 1993 to 1995, during which Bill Clinton had a Democratic Congress to work with) the Republicans may now have gone too far. The American people are now so disgusted with our current President and Congress that they may be able to vote the Republicans out of control of Congress this November, despite all their ill-gotten advantages.

If the Democrats gain control of Congress in 2007 they would be well advised to work quickly (while at the same time passing laws to put in place a transparent election system and make our national news media accountable to the public interest) to make political bribery an illegal act, thereby doing much to counteract a pernicious and vicious cycle that has plagued our country for most of its 230 year history.
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demnan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-04-06 06:47 PM
Response to Original message
1. This is a great post and recommended.
If we had honest government and the majority of the people wanted convervative government well then fine. But actually the Democrats don't have a fighting chance against big corporate money.

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-04-06 10:33 PM
Response to Reply #1
4. Thank you - I am hoping that it is so obvious now that we'll take both
houses despite the corporate money and the voting machines and the corporate news media. It can't get too much more obvious than it is now.
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liberaldemocrat7 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-05-06 10:09 AM
Response to Reply #1
8. A solution to too much company influence on the legislative process.
Edited on Tue Sep-05-06 10:10 AM by liberaldemocrat7
boycott these companies that give money to the GOP and demand that these companies go to the GOP and get the legislation WE WANT, enacted into law.

You can send these companies email from this website. http://www.dmocrats.org

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-05-06 11:51 AM
Response to Reply #8
9. Thank you
Every bit helps.
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PsN2Wind Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-04-06 07:41 PM
Response to Original message
2. To paraphrase Al Capone
who said "You can get more with a smile and a .45 than with a smile alone".
"You can get more with a vote and a thousand dollars than with a vote alone".
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razors edge Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-04-06 08:58 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. absolutely
just ask jack abramoff.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-05-06 06:06 AM
Response to Reply #3
6. Abramoff crossed the line
But the really sad thing is that lobbyists in the name of their corporations do things on a frequent basis that are similar to many of the things that Abramoff did, and it's legal
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-05-06 12:50 AM
Response to Reply #2
5. He sounds like Tom Delay
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-05-06 08:42 AM
Response to Original message
7. FDR's message to the corporatocracy
From Thom Hartmann's Screwed - The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class - And What We Can Do about it"

Roosevelt's message to business was simple: you're welcome to make money in America - in fact we want you to - but you must understand that you are making money within our society, using the superstructure and the substructure of our democracy. The economy exists to serve the members of our democracy, not the other way around. If you want to play the game of businsess you're welcome to do so according to our new rules, which protect workers and consumers, provide for the creation of a middle class, and keep the government democratic.


FDR was the classic example of a president who wasn't beholding to the big money interests. I'd love to see him (or his ghost) in a long televised debate with Bush.
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nicknameless Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-05-06 10:26 PM
Response to Original message
10. "Money comes in. Favors go out. The people lose."
Quote from Ahhnold. He should know. He ripped off Californians for Enron.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-06-06 08:36 AM
Response to Reply #10
13. I hadn't heard that quote
I take it that he wasn't consciously referring to himself or other Republicans.
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nicknameless Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-06-06 05:49 PM
Response to Reply #13
14. Why would you take it that way?
;)

My guess was that it was said under the assumption that it wouldn't be repeated.

He has suffered from foot-in-mouth syndrome for a long time. Don't forget his Nazi praising.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-06-06 08:08 PM
Response to Reply #14
15. Well, maybe you're right
Something along the lines of Bush saying something to the effect that it would be really great if the United States was a dictatorship, as long as he was the dictator.

Perhaps the real problem is that these guys don't have to worry too much about putting their feet in their mouths because no matter what they say they can feel pretty safe that the media won't jump on them too badly. That is what is the real shame. :argh:
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nicknameless Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-06-06 11:31 PM
Response to Reply #15
16. Exactly.
No repercussions.

:argh: indeed.
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Jcrowley Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-05-06 10:43 PM
Response to Original message
11. Is this
an accurate description?
a crime implying a sum or gift given that alters the behavior of the person in ways not consistent with the duties of that person.





Seems perfectly accurate.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-06-06 08:34 AM
Response to Reply #11
12. I love that cartoon
Casey should use it in his campaign.
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RB TexLa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-06-06 11:46 PM
Response to Original message
17. $1,000 puts you in the elite category

Wow! I'm in, man, pass the champagne!
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