Wednesday, November 07, 2012

We... The People


Wealthy Organized Crime figure, Sheldon Adelson funneled immense sums of money to corrupt congressmen like Michael Grimm and Buck McKeon

In his awesome new book, Twilight of the Elites, Chris Hayes offers the supposition about our congressmembers that "We want them to be Guardians first; we don't think they should be for sale." That doesn't sound very controversial... but is it true? I guess it depends on how you define "we," or, at least, who he meant by "we." Keep in mind over half a billion dollars in "dark money" was just spent in this election cycle and 70% came from just 163 very wealthy people. The fascist-oriented Koch brothers alone contributed $628,100 to the candidates they own. Organized crime figure Sheldon Adelson contributed much more, perhaps more than ten times more.

My sister has a crazy, bitter husband who sits and listens to Rush Limbaugh and other Hate Talk Radio hosts all day and then stews in their insanity. A couple months ago he tried to commit suicide but, thanks to all the services the right wants to end, he was rescued and had his stomach pumped and still walks the earth today. Or Staten Island. That's where they live. I called my sister the other night-- praying my brother-in-law wouldn't intercept the call to give me a word-for-word, passionate rundown of whatever it was Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage had said earlier in the day-- to see how they had weathered Sandy. The electricity was back on and the National Forest Service had removed all the fallen trees that were blocking the roads around their house. I asked her if her neighbors are aware that their congressman, Michael "Mikey Suits" Grimm, is a Gambino Crime Family affiliate. She said she thinks most people are aware that he's corrupt and most assume he's Mafia-connected. She said no one cares, except for the ones who like that. Clearly her neighbors aren't part of Hayes' "we." Nor are the voters in Miami-Dade who went to the polls to support Congressman David Rivera... nor the ones in Santa Clarita and Simi Valley who voted for Buck McKeon.

Grimm, Rivera and McKeon are exceptions to the normal kind of corruption that infects Congress. Only a minority-- scoundrels like them-- actually line their own pockets with illicit cash. Most are just content to get their careers financed in return for hewing to the agenda of whomever is footing the bill, more often than not, big corporations or shady billionaire plutocrats. It's that kind of corruption that is crippling our governing institutions and our elites and of which Hayes writes so urgently.
This basic dynamic infects some of our most important institutions. Key to facilitating both the monumental housing bubble and its collapse was rating agencies' habit of giving even extremely leveraged, toxic securities a triple-A rating. The institutional purpose of the rating agencies (and their market purpose as well) is to add value to investors by using their expertise to make judgments about the creditworthiness of securities. Originally, the ratings agencies made their money from investors who paid subscription fees in exchange for access to their ratings. But over time the largest agencies shifted to a model in which the banks and financial entities issuing the securities would pay the agencies for a rating. Obviously these new clients wanted the highest rating possible, and often would bring pressure to bear on the agencies to make sure they secured the needed triple A. And so the ratings agencies developed an improper dependence on their clients, one that pulled them away from fulfilling their original institutional purpose of serving investors. They became corrupt, and the result was trillions of dollars in supposedly triple-A securities that became worthless once the housing bubble burst.

Lawrence Lessig argues that we see a similar and singularly destructive example of this dynamic at work in the United States Congress. Nearly every single legislator will insist, vigorously and plausibly, that he or show has never changed a vote in exchange for a donation. But rather than a complete dependence on the voters, Congress also now has a dependence on the funders. And it is obvious that this powerful dependence on check-writers is, from the perspective of the Constitution, an improper one. It pulls Congress away from its true purpose, which is to turn the conflicting, complicated wishes of the people into laws with which they can govern themselves.
So back to Hayes' "we" for a moment. A poll taken late last month for Public Citizen-- despite what we saw on election day-- shows that the vast majority of Americans "condemn high levels of corporate political spending, overwhelmingly support strong transparency and accountability reforms." What about Americans in Santa Clarita, Staten Island and Miami-Dade?
• 81 percent of Americans agree that companies should only spend money on political campaigns if they disclose their spending immediately; 80 percent agree that companies should only spend money on political campaigns if they get prior shareholder approval.

• Huge majorities of Americans across the political spectrum condemn corporate political spending and support strong reforms. For example, requiring corporations to get shareholder approval before spending money on politics is supported by 73 percent of both Republicans and Democrats, and 71 percent of Independents.

• 84 percent of Americans agree that corporate political spending drowns out the voices of average Americans, and 83 percent believe that corporations and corporate CEOs have too much political power and influence.

More than 8 in 10 Americans (81%) believe that the secret flow of campaign spending is bad for democracy, and 87 percent agree that prompt disclosure of political spending would help voters, customers and shareholders hold companies accountable for political behavior. Unfortunately, the sources of corporate funds directed through third party intermediaries like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce remain largely hidden.

Americans are strongly in favor of common sense, achievable reforms that would increase transparency and accountability for corporate political spending, fight corruption, and lead to a more responsive and representative government.

• 77% of Americans support a requirement that companies publicly disclose their contributions to groups-- like the U.S. Chamber-- that funnel money into politics.

• 74% of Americans support a plan allowing candidates to run for Congress without raising large contributions by collecting small contributions and receiving limited public funds.

• 74% of Americans favor requiring that the name of the company and its CEO appear in ads paid for by corporate political spending.

Finally, Americans are ready to act to prevent their voices from being drowned out by corporate political spending. To protest a company’s political spending, 79% would refuse to buy a company’s product or services and 76% would sign a petition to the SEC supporting corporate disclosure.
But at the ballot box yesterday... not so much.

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At 9:28 AM, Anonymous Marrakech tours said...

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At 10:28 PM, Anonymous me said...

I have an entry for the RII (Republican Idiotic Irony) Contest:

"Do not become vengeful creatures like our political opponents who voted out of spite instead of love of country." - Michelle Malkin

Holy crap, these people are so unbelievably stupid. (Not to mention just plain evil.) And they can't see it! Wow, just wow.

Well, do I win? Or can someone top that?


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