Native Ground: LET'S GET BIG MONEY OUT OF POLITICS
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- No one does absurdity quite like Congress. Whatother = conclusion can one come to after watching them argue over the"Patients Bill=
of Rights" and campaign finance reform.
There are more than 43 million Americans without health insurance.Those = who have health insurance are paying higher and higher premiums forless an= d less coverage. And, judging from Vice President Dick Cheney'slatest heart= procedure, we have a two-tiered health care system where thosewith the mea= ns can get the finest in health care while millions rely uponemergency room= s as their primary caregivers.
In other words, the system is screwed up.
And what has Congress and President Bush been fighting about? Theright t= o sue your HMO. Of course, why the debate has been reduced to thishas a lot= to do with the other item that conservatives have croaked onceagain -- cam= paign finance reform.
Why is the U.S. the only industrialized country without agovernment-run= universal health care system? Part of the reason has to dowith the enormou= s amounts of money that the HMOs, drug manufacturers andothers throw at our= elected officials to make sure medicine remains afor-profit commodity inst= ead of a non-profit entitlement.
If you want to know why little is ever done in the public interest, just= remember the advice of Watergate whistleblower "Deep Throat" and"follow t= he money."
Why are the bulk of this nation's radio and tv stations, newspapers, mag= azines, book publishers, movie studios and music companies in the hands of = 10 companies? Why are we spending nearly $300 billion a year on defense in = the absence of any legitimate threat? Why does President Bush's energy stra= tegy involve so much oil drilling and so little energy conservation? Why ar= e Big Tobacco and the gun lobby suddenly feeling their oats? Why is Congres= s trying to make it harder to file for bankruptcy?
The answers to these questions lie in the lists of campaign contribution= s. According to Common Cause, $463.1 million in soft money -- the unregulat= ed campaign donations given to the political parties -- was raised between = Jan. 1, 1999 and Dec. 31, 2000. That's nearly double the amount that was ra= ised in the 1996 campaign cycle ($235.8 million) and nearly five times as m= uch as the 1992 campaign cycle ($84.4 million).
Common Cause breaks down = the figures on it's Website(http://www.commoncause.org) and they certainly = are an eye opener.
Who were the top 10 givers to the Republicans? They we= re AT&T ($2.3million), Phillip Morris ($2 million), Bristol-Meyers Squibb (= $1.5million), the National Rifle Association and Enron Corp. ($1.4 millione= ach), Pfizer and Freddie Mac ($1.3 million each), Microsoft ($1.2 million)a= nd AOL Time Warner and Amway ($1.1 million each).
Labor unions -- which gave 99 percent of their money to Democrats -- mad= e up most of that party's top 10, led by the American Federation of State, = County and Municipal Employees ($6.5 million), the Service Employees Intern= ational Union ($5 million), the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiner= s ($2.9 million), the Communications Workers of America ($2.4 million), the= United Food and Commercial Workers ($2.1 million), S. Daniel Abraham, chai= rman of Slim Fast Foods, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Worker= s and Peter L. Buttenweiser, president of P.L.Buttenweiser and Associates (= $1.8 million each), the American Federation of Teachers ($1.7 million) and = Haim Saban, chairman of Saban Entertainment($1.5 million).
It gets even more clear who benefits from the big money when you look at= the top 10 industries that have shoveled money into the system. Securities= and investments (think the folks who want to see Social Security privatize= d and poor debtors pay back every last dime they owe) led the way with $45.= 2 million. The labor unions gave $32.8 million, but remember that business = interests and professionals contributed $367.6 million, or 11 times more, t= han the unions did. That explains why its easier to spin straw into gold th= an to get pro-worker legislation through Congress.
Rounding out the industry top 10 are telecommunications ($26.8million), = real estate ($26 million), computers and electronics ($25.5million), lawyer= s and lobbyists ($22.5 million), entertainment and media($19.4 million), ph= armaceuticals and medical supplies ($17.4 million), insurance ($15.7 millio= n) and oil and gas ($15.4 million).
Perhaps the biggest indicator of the = Bush administration's priorities comes from the list of industries that gav= e almost of their money to Republicans -- metals and mining ($4.7 million, = or 90 percent),tobacco ($4.7 million, or 88 percent) and the automotive ind= ustry ($3.9 million, or 88 percent).
Besides labor unions, industries that gave almost all of their money to = Democrats included lawyers and lobbyists ($18.6 million, or 88 percent) and= entertainment and media ($13.3 million, or 72 percent).
The industries that hedged their bets and gave in almost equal amounts t= o each party were gambling ($4.2 million for each party), real estate ($13.= 2 million for Democrats, $12.7 million for the GOP), telecommunications ($1= 3.8 million for the GOP, $12.9 million for Democrats), computers ($12.7 mil= lion for Democrats, $11.8 million for the GOP) and aerospace and defense ($= 4.4 million for the GOP, $3.7 million for Democrats).
I laugh when the arguments of conservatives that limits on political don= ations ultimately limits free speech. Barely 2 percent of the population di= rectly donates any money to political candidates, and as you can see from t= he numbers from Common Cause, most of the soft money comes from corporate i= nterests.
The rich and the well-connected are the folks who give the money and con= trol the political debate. Sure, anybody can run for Congress -- but you be= tter be able to come up with a couple of million dollars for a House seat a= nd at least $10 million for a Senate seat.
Want to run president in 2004? You can, if you can come up with $30 mil= lion by the end of 2003. Unless you are independently wealthy, you have to = shake down an awful lot of rich people, political action committees and spe= cial interest groups to come up with that kind of dough.
That, not campai= gn spending limits, is the real danger to freespeech and democracy.
Yes,= there are a few folks here and there in politics that aren't whores. But t= he reality is that if you want to be in politics, you have to either be ric= h, have lots of friends who are rich and/or be willing to sell your soul to= the corporate interests to get the money you need to campaign and stay in = office.
For about the cost of one B-2 bomber -- around a $1 billion -- we could = have publicly funded Congressional elections. Without the burden of having = to raise enormous sums of money, we could see a more diverse group of peopl= e running for office and we might stand a chance of seeing a government tha= t acts in the public's interest instead of the interest of the folks who po= ur hundreds of millions of dollars into candidates and political parties to= get what they want.
Without real reform and public funding of political campaigns, you can p= retty much forget ever seeing things like universal health care, more money= for education and less for the military, a cleaner environment or an energ= y policy that's not totally dependent on fossil fuels and nuclear power. In= other words, we will continue to have a completely bought and paid for pol= itical system that's of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 = years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).