Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Institutionalized corruption ~ Robert Weissman of @Public_Citizen


Washington politicians must think we’re stupid.

They take money from powerful corporate interests like Big Oil and Wall Street. They introduce, debate and pass legislation that boosts the bottom lines of these companies. And they expect us to believe that the campaign cash has nothing to do with how they vote.


Out in the real world, no one believes that Exxon and Bank of America give millions of dollars to members of Congress out of sheer corporate kindness. Giant corporations spend money on politics because they get something in return.

And we’re not talking about small amounts of money here, either.
ITEM: Earlier this year, the Senate voted on whether to extend billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil. The 48 senators who supported subsidies each got an average of over $370,000 in campaign contributions from the industry. The 52 senators who opposed subsides each got only about $72,000.*


I don’t think so. It’s just business as usual in our nation’s capital—another corporate handout by politicians in exchange for campaign contributions.

This institutionalized corruption is degrading our democracy, and the American people are losing faith in our government. They understand that real change requires limiting corporate money, and they overwhelmingly support public funding of federal elections and overturning the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United v. FEC ruling.

That’s why Public Citizen is ramping up our grassroots campaign to get corporate money out of politics.

But we need to move fast. The 2012 campaign season is already under way.

And the $300 million in Citizens United v. FEC-enabled money pumped into the 2010 campaign will look like pocket change compared to what corporate America is going to unleash on voters starting early next year.

With the election and our very democracy at stake, I need your immediate help to fight back against corporate power and to end business as usual in Washington.

Please contribute $25, $40, $100 or whatever you can right now to help Public Citizen counteract the corrupting influence of corporate cash over our democracy and our lives.
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Unfortunately, 48 U.S. senators selling their votes to Big Oil is only one example of the massive corruption that characterizes politics in Washington today.

And the oil and gas industry is not even the biggest spender in Congress.

In the 2010 elections, financial services companies contributed $305 million to federal candidates and political parties and spent another $471 million on lobbying.

That’s right—three quarters of a billion dollars was spent by Wall Street, insurance and real estate companies to make sure members of Congress did what these special interests wanted. And they got what they paid for.
ITEM: Senators who supported Wall Street’s position on the two most important financial service bills of the last two sessions of Congress—the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and the 2010 financial reform bill—got an average of $879,803 from this special-interest group. Senators who opposed Wall Street got $63,569 each—a difference of nearly 14 to 1.

But corporate America’s influence-peddling didn’t stop with the passage of this legislation. The Big Banks are working day and night to block or undermine regulations that implement the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

That’s why Public Citizen has launched a project to analyze and expose lobbying activities of Wall Street and other business interests determined to slow down the implementation of Wall Street reform and other legislation.

Our first report—“Wall Street’s Two Cents”—examined the reform bill’s requirement for publicly traded companies to reveal how much their CEOs make compared to the salary of their average employee.

Corporations are fighting this simple disclosure requirement tooth and nail, for all the obvious reasons. In our report, we analyzed four business groups with extensive lobbying operations and found they spent more than $4.5 million lobbying on financial regulation and other issues. They deployed 46 individuals—37 of whom are former government employees—to lobby on financial regulation, and made $660,180 in political contributions.

Corporate money doesn’t just influence what gets passed in Congress, or how regulators implement the laws Congress passes. Maybe the most far-reaching impact of all the corporate money sloshing around the Capitol is how it shapes what even gets discussed in the first place.
ITEM: Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, solicited input from 150 trade associations on which regulations that protect the health and safety of the American people they’d like to see eliminated. Over his House career, Issa has received $17.4 million in campaign contributions—nearly $1.5 million from communications, electronics, finance, insurance, real estate and health services businesses.

These are just a few examples of how corporate campaign contributions corrupt our political leaders. There are hundreds more.

Please contribute $25, $40, $100 or whatever you can to help Public Citizen fight the Big Business takeover of our elections and government.

We are exposing the institutionalized corruption at the core of our campaign finance system, advocating for smart new legislation to drive corporate money out of our elections, and mobilizing a grassroots movement of citizen activists determined to take back our democracy from corporate control.

With your continuing support I know we’ll get the job done.
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Public Citizen’s tough-minded approach to fighting corporate power is built upon a foundation of authoritative, data-driven reports. Our highly respected research and analysis helps frame the debate, grab media coverage and educate the public and policymakers. And we’re not shy about naming names. We identify the corporations that are trying to buy influence—and we call out those on the receiving end, too.

When our staff goes up to Capitol Hill to confront the corporate lobbyists, they’re armed with the facts about the corrupting influence of money on policymaking and with cutting-edge reports that present comprehensive solutions to corporate domination of our electoral system.

We’ve issued numerous reports exposing the link between corporate campaign cash and congressional voting, on the impact of Big Business’ lobbying activities and on the role of secretive outside groups in political campaigns. They include:

“Courting the New Dems”
Last year, 43 members of the politically conservative New Democrat Coalition sent a letter urging House-Senate negotiators to weaken the financial reform bill’s regulation of derivatives. On average, they received 44% more in campaign contributions from the financial services sector in the 2010 election cycle than the 25 coalition members who did not sign the letter.

“Banking on Connections”
During a recent 18-month period analyzed in this report, the financial services industry sent 1,447 former federal employees to lobby Congress and federal agencies on financial reform! Among the lobbyists were at least 73 former members of Congress. Wall Street hires former members of Congress and their staffers for a reason. These people are influential because they have personal relationships with current members and staff. It’s hard to say no to your friends.

“Outside Job”
Unaccountable, outside groups favored the winning candidates in 58 of the 74 races in which political power changed hands in the 2010 congressional elections. This is the most powerfully specific evidence of how Citizens United v. FEC enabled front groups to use massive, secret contributions from corporations and wealthy individuals to subvert our democracy.

Contribute now to support Public Citizen’s work to defend democracy.


Cleaning up our corrupt campaign finance system and breaking the hold Big Business has on Washington requires passing tougher laws and penalties.

We’re going to advocate hard to spark action and pass critical reforms. Our legislative strategy consists of three initiatives to limit the influence of corporate money in politics:

1. Fair Elections Now Act (FENA)

This legislation offers a new system for public financing of campaigns combined with small private donations. FENA would free public officials from the demands of raising money from big donors so they can focus their energies on the interests of voters. House members must raise more than $1,000 a day to amass large enough war chests to wage their next campaign. On average, a U.S. senator must raise more than $3,000 per day.

We have more than 20 co-sponsors in the Senate and 40 in the House. We are fighting for hearings on the bill and working to generate even broader support. The bill enjoys wide public approval with nearly 70% of voters in favor of public funding of candidates. Public Citizen will continue to play a leadership role in fighting for this legislation.

2. Shareholder Protection

Unaccountable corporate executives can spend unlimited amounts of money from their companies’ general treasuries to influence the outcome of political campaigns without the consent or even the notification of shareholders. But spending shareholder money on such matters should require shareholder approval.

Public Citizen is a leader in the growing coalition fighting for the Shareholder Protection Act, which would require shareholder approval before a corporation could spend money on a campaign. We’re pushing as well for action from federal regulators, for state laws and for companies to commit not to spend money on campaigns without receiving prior shareholder approval.

3. Disclosure of Corporate Spending

At a time when the Supreme Court has perversely permitted unlimited corporate money in our elections, we no longer have a meaningful disclosure law in place, thanks to rules permitting corporations to channel spending through front groups not required to disclose their sources of support.

As I write, we are still urging President Obama to sign an executive order requiring all corporations doing business with the federal government to disclose their campaign contributions and expenditures.

On May 26, all but one Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of an amendment to keep campaign spending by government contractors secret. Nonetheless, we remain hopeful the president will soon sign the draft executive order.

Assuming the President acts, the executive order will be an important step, but we will still need rules requiring disclosure of all corporate campaign spending, including by companies that are not government contractors.

A Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United v. FEC

This is, of course, the big-picture remedy to the corporate takeover of our democracy. And as you know from my recent messages, the movement is building momentum with the addition of three new full-time organizers.

We need your help right now to raise $75,000 to take our campaign for a constitutional amendment to the next level and continue fighting runaway corporate greed on all fronts.
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As important as hard-hitting reports and smart advocacy strategies are, they alone will not be enough to win fundamental change. For truly significant change to occur, we need a powerful grassroots movement. It’s our collective people power that gives us the ability to overcome corporations’ financial might. As the saying goes, when the people lead, the leaders will follow.

Our key to winning is to combine the energy and determination of hundreds of thousands of Public Citizen members and supporters with the technical expertise and experience of our Washington advocates to confront corporate power and build real people power.

Here’s what I mean. Public Citizen recently helped generate nearly 10,000 comments to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) urging the agency to ban executive bonuses at financial firms that cause excessive risk-taking or could lead to the company’s financial loss. This was the biggest response for any SEC rule since passage of the financial reform law.

When it comes to taking back our government, we know what we’re up against, and we won’t rest until we have taken back our government from corporate interests and returned it to the people.

Please contribute $25, $40, $100 or whatever you can right now to help Public Citizen rescuing our democracy from the undue influence of giant corporations.

We have to mobilize and organize the American people in opposition to corporate power and its growing influence in Washington, D.C.

With your help, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Please stand with me today as we rise to meet the challenge in front of us.

Thank you.
photograph of Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman's signature
Robert Weissman
President, Public Citizen

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