Making Government Listen

For a civic lesson on how government works in this modern age, look no further than the example of Southern Company.

Southern, a giant electric power corporation based in Atlanta, wanted to convey an idea to our national policy makers. Like any citizen wishing to have its voice heard, Southern began by introducing itself properly to those in charge -- by becoming a major campaign contributor.

In 2000, the company gave $500,000 to George W and other Republican candidates.

Thus, the door of power opened, and Southern entered, getting seven separate meetings in early 2001 with Dick Cheney's secret task force that was writing Bush's new energy policy. The idea that this civic-minded company brought to our governmental leaders is that utilities like it should not be punished for pumping vast amounts of carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the public's air.

To amplify its voice, Southern followed the time-honored democratic process: It hired a well-connected lobbyist, Haley Barbour, former chairman of the Republican Party. On May 17, Bush's energy plan was released, and, lo, it contained Southern's idea. See, government does listen -- and respond -- when properly approached.

But to make modern government work most efficiently for you, appropriate follow-through is important, so, note that only five days after Southern got its idea endorsed, the company and Barbour gave $350,000 to the GOP.

This money helped with yet another idea Southern had. It wanted EPA prosecutors to ignore a series of its violations of our nations clean air laws. Again, Barbour intervened, and government responded fully, with the White House forcing the prosecution to drop the charges.

Disgusted, EPA's chief prosecutor, Eric Schaeffer, resigned after Southern's raw power play, saying: "With the Bush Administration... if you've got a good lobbyist, you can just buy your way out of trouble."

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