Do you ever wonder why the Congress of the United States, elected by the people to represent them in government, no longer represents them, nor does it “support and defend the Constitution of the United States” as each member is pledged to do by their oath of office? What has happened? The answer is corruption, corruption so widespread that it threatens the survival of our nation as a democracy. Corruption is so generally accepted that it far exceeds the dangers of terrorism, as it seeps into the most critical agencies of government and our national life.
Congress is the pivot point, the compass of our national direction. It is the meeting point of corporate power and national government. From the moment our newly elected Representatives assume their posts in Washington, they are introduced to the rule of money.
“Freshmen are pushed and pushed and pushed to raise money – it’s how they are judged by the leadership and the political establishment in Washington,” said Mr. (Brad) Miller, who added that he felt the same pressure when he joined the Financial Services Committee in 2003 as a freshman. “It’s only natural that it has got to be on your mind that a vote one way or other is going to affect the ability to raise money.”
According to The New York Times article “For Freshmen in the House, Seats of Plenty” and How Congressmen in both Parties are Being Bought, a video by the Young Turks and hosted (very effectively) by Cenk Uygur:
“After the elections in November, Democratic Party leaders gave a PowerPoint presentation urging their freshman members to spend as much as four hours a day making fund-raising calls while in Washington and an additional hour of “strategic outreach” holding breakfasts or “meet and greets” with possible financial supporters. That adds up to more time than these first-term lawmakers were advised to spend on congressional business.”
The article goes on to say that members of the Financial Services Committee have received a total of $9.4 million in the first six months of this year. Committee Chairman Rep. Jeb Henssarling (R-Texas) has received $282,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Committee supported rolling back some of the strictest provisions of the Dodd-Frank regulations that protect borrowers from bank excess.
But this corruption is not limited to the Financial Services Committee. Bombs Versus Budgets: Inside the Nuclear Weapons Lobby, by William Hartung and Christine Anderson of ciponline.org, includes many details of just how the Congress is wooed by the large weapons manufacturers. For example, from the summary, “Leading advocates of high levels of nuclear weapons spending have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from major nuclear weapons contractors in the course of their careers. These advocates include House Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), with career receipts of $809,150 from these companies; Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), Chair of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, with $144,400 in career receipts; and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), with $250,875 in career receipts. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), who sponsored an amendment designed to block funding for the implementation of the New START arms reduction treaty with Russia and protect ICBMs based in his home state, has received $118,990 from nuclear weapons contractors in his career in Congress.”
Headlines about the Second Amendment right to bear arms are amplified by the National Rifle Association, which is funded by arms manufacturers protecting their lucrative industry. But almost nothing is said about the other vital amendments in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, because no other industries directly benefit from our basic rights and freedoms.
The Wikipedia article Israel Lobby in the United States has much information on AIPAC and other pro-Israeli organizations. “A summary of pro-Israel campaign donations for the period of 1990-2008 collected by Center for Responsive Politics indicates current totals and a general increase in proportional donations to the US Republican party since 1996. … The Center for Responsive Politics’ 1990-2006 data shows that “pro-Israel interests have contributed $56.8 million in individual, group and soft money donations to federal candidates and party committees since 1990.” In contrast, Arab-Americans and Muslim PACs contributed slightly less than $800,000 during the same period. “In 2006, 60% of the Democratic Party’s fundraising and 25% of that for the Republican Party’s fundraising came from Jewish-funded Political Action Committees. Democratic presidential candidates depend on Jewish sources for 60% of money from private sources.”
Like all nations, Israel deserves fair representation in the US. But when any group advocates that we go to war to suit the purpose of a foreign nation, to kill and destroy for them, to risk the death and wounding of our troops, to impoverish our people, it should – at the very least – be carefully scrutinized.
Another example of the corrupting influence of money on our government is the pursuit of “Free Trade” agreements, from the WTO to GATT and the US-Korea FTA. It is well-known that these agreements have caused the US to lose millions of manufacturing jobs, to increase the unfavorable balance of payments and the export of our technology and to threaten the very sovereignty of our people. We were promised ten benefits from free trade. Nine of them have utterly failed; some imported goods are less expensive. The beneficiaries of our so-called free trade have been the large, international corporations – many of which avoid US taxes by keeping their money overseas. Yet, in spite of these damages, we continue to negotiate more free trade rules, including the current secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Corporate money dominates our trade policies in spite of the very real damage to our working people and the nation as a whole.
Decaying from within
Our beloved nation is being destroyed by the corrupting power of money. While we throw billions of our tax dollars at the Pentagon, Homeland Security and the National Security Administration, our nation is falling behind other developed countries by many international measures of well-being. Here are some more: More than 80,000 chemicals are released into the environment, although the vast majority are untested for their effects on people, yet we know that much chronic disease is linked to chemical exposure. We are spending about $55 billion a year on our nuclear weapons and delivery systems, while children go hungry; child care is beyond the reach of many; cities are forced to cut back their first responders.
In this new century, the US has suffered billions of dollars of losses, homes and businesses destroyed and many thousands of injuries and deaths from violent weather events. Yet we still do not have a national program to reduce the mining and drilling of coal and oil to limit climate change or to effectively increase alternative energy systems to replace them. Coal and oil companies have spent millions spreading climate change denials to confuse the nation. More people die; that is the result of corruption.
While political parties encourage fundraising to maintain their numbers, they are largely supported by groups who want to buy public policy. Congress also represents a public that wants its representatives to bring home the bacon – even though it may not be good for the health of the nation. Congress refuses to close any military bases – even though the Pentagon says it does not need them all.
Through the pursuit of money, we have allowed our society to decline. The US is rotting away, but not because we lack money or resources. We are in decline because too many have accepted the false belief, the ultimate transgression, that money is more important than life itself. We want to be successful by earning money and investing in profitable, dividend-paying corporations. We don’t want to look beyond the balance sheets to the suffering behind them. An extreme example is the horrible, senseless deaths of garment workers in Bangladesh. Another is the extensive plans to spend billions “modernizing” our nuclear weapons and the systems that can deliver them to any part of the Earth – despite the fact that these life-threatening weapons are unquestionably criminal and sinful. There is no excuse! We applaud Obama’s speeches for peace, and pay taxes to “modernize” these indiscriminate weapons of human incineration and radiation poisoning.
Perhaps because we have not experienced the Nazi holocaust or the Communist gulag directly or because we have not had our cities bombed to rubble we take our liberties and war-making for granted. We have lost the passion for freedom that motivated the founders to risk all. We submit to the corporate dictatorship of “free trade” agreements and to the secret bypass of our laws and liberties for the sake of security.
The Repair of American Democracy
There is a way to reduce the pressure on Congressional representatives to sell their services. The government could take over the cost of elections. The concept is that if the people pay for the elections, their representatives actually will represent them. The Fair Elections Now Act has been successful in a number of states. Candidates must raise enough money in small contributions to qualify. Once qualified, the government will give candidates a reasonable amount for their campaigns. While subsidizing elections costs money, it will save in the long run, because many wasteful projects will be ended. Because this approach is voluntary, it is constitutional. For more information about the Fair Elections Now Act, please see the articles on the website of Public Citizen.
The effect of the Fair Elections Now Act would be to make it possible for people without wealthy contacts to run for office. Unions for example, could elect their own people as representatives in some districts. The problem is that entrenched members of Congress with longstanding contributors are unlikely to vote for a system that will encourage challengers. Only a vigorous citizen’s movement can force a majority of the present Congress to support the Fair Elections Now Act.
It will be very difficult to reinvigorate our decaying democracy without wide popular support. Too many services and businesses have degraded into rackets. To revitalize our democracy, we need a movement for greater integrity throughout our society. Yes, to be rid of the corporate domination and to return to government for all the people will require us to examine our lives and make the effort to be honest and fair in all dealings. Integrity is urgently needed for reliable Representatives in Washington, and that integrity must come from the people who send them there. The best way to repair the decay of the United States lies not in huge military budgets or spying on each other, but in examining and improving the integrity of our lives. An America characterized by honesty and truthfulness in private will elect leaders with those qualities in public. The stakes are huge, let’s give it a try.
Do you support Truthout’s reporting and analysis? Click here to help us continue doing this work!
Not everyone can pay for the news. But if you can, we need your support.
Truthout is widely read among people with lower incomes and among young people who are mired in debt. Our site is read at public libraries, among people without internet access of their own. People print out our articles and send them to family members in prison — we receive letters from behind bars regularly thanking us for our coverage. Our stories are emailed and shared around communities, sparking grassroots mobilization.
We’re committed to keeping all Truthout articles free and available to the public. But in order to do that, we need those who can afford to contribute to our work to do so.
We’ll never require you to give, but we can ask you from the bottom of our hearts: Will you donate what you can, so we can continue providing journalism in the service of justice and truth?