Hightower: Washington Overrun by 11,000 Corporate Lobbyists and $500 Million in Corrupting Donations
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Change. That's what Americans want. We the People--a.k.a. the body politic, the majority, the great unwashed, the hoi polloi, "us"--have made it clear that we want real, substantive change in the way Washington works, and for whom it works. We're sick of a "jobless recovery," rampant banksterism, collapsing bridges, corporate-owned elections, tinkle-down economics, oil dependency, made-in-China everything, mountaintop "removal," corporate welfare, falling wages, skyrocketing tuition, the demise of the middle class, and on and on. Enough! Ya basta! Stop it--change, dammit, CHANGE!
But where's the change? It's in subcommittees, in negotiations, in limbo, in transition, in purgatory, in trouble, in Never Never Land, in the trash can.
Why? Right-wing pundits and corporate-funded tea-party groups want you to blame Washington. Well, yes, Obama seems to lack convictions, much less courage; Senate Democrats tend to be five-watt bulbs sitting in 100-watt sockets; and congressional Republicans are...well, contemptible and pathetic. But these characters are the public face of the problem, not the source. Progressives need to focus on those shadowy players who're pulling the strings from behind the scenes to kill the will of the people and impose their special interest over America's public interest.
Who are they? Let's start by running some numbers on them:
- 11,195. That's the number of corporate lobbyists who are presently plying their nefarious trade day and night in Washington's hallways and back rooms.
- $2.95 billion. That's the amount that corporations spent on lobbyists last year alone (a sum more than six times greater than the total spent by all consumer,environmental, worker, and other non-corporate groups combined).
- $473 million. That's the sum of money that corporate executives and lobbyists have slipped into Washington's many political pockets--so far--for the 2010 election cycle, including donations to candidates, leadership PACS, and party committees. We are still seven months from the 2010 elections, and already corporate spending has reached the record-breaking total of $475 million shelled out for the entire 2008 cycle.
This unrelenting lobbying force is so tightly wired into every part of our political and governmental systems and so omnipresent in Washington decision making that it refers to itself as "the industry." It has become such a permanent part of America's "democratic" power structure that several universities now offer four-year degrees in lobbying! And, as a measure of how entrenched this powerhouse industry has become, note that it has its own lobbying firm: the American League of Lobbyists (ironically, its acronym is ALL). The league works to fend off legislative, regulatory, and ethical restrictions on influence peddling--a reform that nearly all Americans would support.
As if that's not enough power behind the narrow agenda of America's economic elite, consider this number: 300. That's roughly how many former members of Congress are currently in harness to corporate lobbying firms.
Ever wonder what happened to such once-powerful-and-prominent lawmakers as Dick Armey, John Ashcroft, Tom Daschle, Tom Foley, Dick Gephardt, Newt Gingrich, Phil Gramm, Dennis Hastert, Jack Kemp, Bob Livingston, Trent Lott, Bob Packwood, Richard Pombo, Rick Santorum, Bud Shuster, Billy Tauzin, Fred Thompson, and John Warner?
Instead of returning to the old homestead to dwell among the beloved constituents who sent them to Washington, they moved only a dozen blocks from the Capitol to the K-Street lobbyist corridor, where they've cashed in on their congressional experience and connections to draw six-figure or even seven-figure annual salaries for satisfying corporate desires. Indeed, Congress has become a training ground to develop lobbyists. Ex-members are prized for their insider knowledge and old-boy chumminess, which they developed at taxpayer expense but can sell to the highest bidder.
Corporations are spending $240 million a month--a month!--to maintain this occupying force of hired guns. Why spend so much? Because it pays off, big time.