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Government by Lobbyist

July 11th, 2010 · No Comments · Corporations and Industry, Economics, Health Care, Lobbying, Politics, Wall Street

The recent Citizens United verdict by the Supreme Court makes one thing clear. For the time being, at least, lobbying is here to stay and has been given even greater abilities to interfere in the legislation and administration of the United States.

What we have now is a law that says that any corporation, and probably any union, in fact any group of people organized as a corporate body, profit or non-profit, may act in the same way towards a political candidate that it is now legal for a citizen to act. They may run an ad directly for a candidate at any time right up to the date of the election.

The reason for this is actually quite simple. If corporations are treated as “persons” as they are in our legal system, then according to the majority on the Supreme Court today, those “persons” should not have their rights impinged by restricting their free speech…that is, their ability to say, “I like that guy for (mayor or governor or) President.”

Now you may think that it is silly for a corporation to be classified as a “person” for the purposes of Free Speech, and ridiculous for a corporation to be able to pour a billion dollars into a campaign to defeat a member of the House of Representatives or a mayor. But that is the logical extension of the artificial designation of “person” that we have created for corporations.

There are a number of reasons for it, but suffice to say that the idea of a separate entity, different from the people in the corporation is an important factor in the operation of our economy. Whether this artificial construct should be recreated in the political sphere in order to grant large organizations the ability to make huge political contributions directly against candidates…something we have long prohibited as unfair…which it is…is another question altogether.

So…in the context of a society where the long-dominant political party, the Neoconservative Party, has packed the Supreme Court with corporate lawyers eager to adjust the balance of free speech, which in this case is money as free speech, we now face a new era of lobbying.

In 2010, there are 12,533 registered lobbyists in Washington. That number is down a couple of thousand from the previous year. The total amount spent by lobbyists in 2009 was $3.49 billion, a billion more than was spent in 2005. Thus far in 2010, it is about $920 million but the year isn’t over yet and it is an election year. So there will be people out persuading other people to help them and therefore there will be lobbyists asking for things in return.

Just take one group—the “gun rights” lobby. These are the representatives of the gun dealers, those who according to Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, who have the guns and “the guys with the guns make the rules.”

In the case of the gun lobby, in 2008 they spent about $3.9 million lobbying. In addition, in 2008, the gun lobby contributed $2,397,743 to federal campaigns, of which, $2,111,144 went to Republicans.

So if you are looking to someone to applaud for the proliferation of guns in public places, including schools, universities, churches and among criminals, including those used to kill policemen, you can clap your hands together for the American Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America, the two principal lobbying groups.

But here is the situation and it is too typical of many issues where the people doing damage are the ones with the money and therefore the clout. The gun rights groups, like the National Rifle Association gave 41 times more to candidates than the gun control groups, $2.4 million to $57,900. And they spent 34 times more on lobbying than the gun control advocates, $3.9 million against $115,000.

Of course, if you can reach a Congressperson or a Senator easily, that is a great advantage. Consequently, former aides to Congressmen or former Congressmen or Congresswomen make wonderful lobbyists. So in the case of the Gun Lobby, of the 43 people who are lobbying Congress, 16 of those are former members of Congress or former staffers to Congressional Representatives or Senators.

So if you are a person living in a city, where gun purchase, ownership and perhaps the right to carry a concealed weapon is a concern to you, it will be very quickly evident that money and political clout are the “free speech” that have more chance of influencing a vote than yours.

Of course, this is everywhere throughout the economy. For example, the Wall Street “Banksters” as Thom Hartmann calls them worked their magic on Congress. The firms that took billion in TARP funds to save their companies and their rich lifestyles…ostensibly because, if we did not save them, the country would go bankrupt…now lobby against legislation to prevent it from happening again. Is this a great country or what?

Understand this…we need to throw out the lobbyists and those in corporations who are the liaison with the lobbyists…and the Senators and Congressmen who spend their time doing the bidding of lobbyists. But we cannot take the inane “tea party” approach of throwing out the good politicians with the bad ones. We have lost the best of the Republicans by voting in Democrats and left the worst of the Republicans in place.

Back to the financial reform bill, because it is a good example. Chris Dodd and Richard Shelby, Senators respectively from Connecticut and Alabama worked on the financial services bill to prohibit the kinds of activities that caused our recession. And who were the lobbyists who came to the hill to offer amendments that would weaken the bill?

Both Senator Dodd and Senator Shelby had previously employed 8 of those lobbyists as staffers. But that wasn’t all. Every Senator on the financial committee had employed as a staffer at least one of the lobbyists coming to the hill to offer amendments to weaken it and overall 59 lobbyists working against the bill had worked in one way or another for the financial services committee prior to becoming lobbyists. In all, there were 115 lobbyists who had, in one way or another, worked not only for the House or the Senate, but had worked on the financial committees of those two bodies.

How many people did you have there, representing your interests, your income loss, your job loss, your lay offs, your home equity loss? It is personal. It is as personal as it gets. Over a million people went bankrupt, mostly from health-care-related problems the year BEFORE the crash—and it was unregulated financial firms who put them there. It is unimaginable what the toll must be now.

Is it any surprise that the People wonder if we can ever have a constructive, meaningful government any longer…one not ruled by industry? The whole process makes no sense. It is merely employment for those who come to Washington to seek a career.

Financial regulations are very important but not as important as not having medical care when you are seriously ill. We know…we have seen documentaries on television of people who could not get medical care…some of us know personally of people who could not get medical care…and died as a direct result.

So let’s be clear. We no longer live in the most civilized society in the world. Cowboy Bush, if not the worst, certainly the dumbest President who ever slept in the White House, turned the clock back to the days of the wild, wild west, while avoided service in the military and advanced totally on Daddy’s reputation and connections. To our everlasting disgrace we allowed this posturing, vacuous wimp, to be elected as our 43rd President, not once but twice.

He deliberately pandered to oil men, sent young Americans off to needless wars to die in the flower of their youth, not to save civilization from Nazis but to further his own distorted view of the world and to enrich his friends. And in his tenure, the number of lobbyists in Washington doubled. He encouraged it because government was not for the People, in his view, but for HIS people, large corporations and the very wealthy who had always seen to it that he got ahead.

But financial services, as important as they are…and we have all now experienced the damage an unregulated system can do…are not as significant as health care. The health care lobbyists are as sinister, aggressive and ruthless as panzer tank divisions coming across the European plains.

Health care already has its army of lobbyists, but when it came time to plan a serious health care delivery system that would eat into the profits of the non-profits and the other corporations killing Americans with high costs for health care…the industry dug in. Over 1700 separate companies hired an astounding 4,525 lobbyists to fight off a good, solid, inexpensive health care option for you…the People.

Companies like Campbell Soups, for God’s sake, were involved with the Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to kill the bill, because of worries that their health care costs might go up. Of course, their health care costs ARE going up and the entire reason for health care reform was to get health care costs in line.

Now, the lobbyists were not all from one side. AARP and AFL-CIO had their lobbyists in the fight as well, giving as good as they got. The AARP wanted to protect Medicare from the sharks as long as the whole thing was now in the water. AFL-CIO, which has long considered health care as one of its most important benefits, was there to make sure that all the sacrifices of income that they had made to keep good health care was not taxed to make room for more health insurance CEO millionaires.

In all, health care reform lobbying efforts cost about $1.2 billion. That is a huge amount of money in a country where the annual expenditure is, at best, $3.5 billion. So about a third was added just to try to defeat health care for all Americans. What does that tell you? It tells you this.

Our health care costs would go down by at least a third and probably one-half if we had a true health care bill, with a public option, controlled drug prices, and more general practitioners and more health care clinics rather than hospital emergency rooms. If the health insurance companies, hospitals, drug companies and suppliers are willing to spend a billion in one year…we can easily save four to five billion a year…that’s a very conservative estimate, based on what corporations are willing to spend on lobbying.

That’s half our current revised health care plan…total costs per year—half, without doing anything meaningful in the bill itself to cut costs. So if we could, ever, break free of lobbyists, we could clearly create a world-class health care system that would lower costs for 75% of Americans and add a very good, reliable health care plan for the other 25%.

But will it happen? You decide. There is a new game in town and it is formidable. Because of our advances in identifying certain genes, we now have research that has largely been bought up by the pharmaceutical companies with their gigantic profits that enables the medical community to attack disease with much greater efficiency. The costs right now, however, are staggering.

A treatment of breast cancer with a very effective biologic drug called Herceptin can cost $48,000 a year. Now, obviously no one is asking the drug companies to either eat the costs of developing these drugs or cut their costs. What the people are asking the drug companies to do is to convert them to generic drugs, still pretty expensive comparatively, on the same schedule as other drugs. The FTC says they don’t need 12 years of protection. Henry Waxman who heads that committee in Congress wants 5 years.

Why is it important? Because “generic biologics” can save our new health care system a gigantic amount of money. They are already $40 billion a year in volume. And in the case of old drugs, the generics have saved Americans $73 billion a year. The savings will not be as great for the generic “biologic” drugs but the costs are so high and the technology so effective in curing certain diseases, that the sooner generic the better.

But what is Waxman up against? One of his own Democrats on the committee seems to be in the pockets of the drug companies, who, by the way, have given over $2.8 million in campaign contributions to the members of this committee alone. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo has introduced a bill that has wide support to give the drug manufacturers their 12 years.

And it is not surprising when you learn that former Republican Congressman Jim Greenwood from Pennsylvania is President and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. He was a key member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee during the Bush Administration, a committee that gave us the unpaid for $1.2 trillion Medicare prescription drug bill, a boondoggle for the pharmaceutical industry.

Of course, the right thing to do at that time, when seniors were going to Canada to get drugs that were exorbitantly expensive in this country, would have been to force the drug companies to negotiate, as the VA makes them do. But Greenwood and his Republican pals made it explicit that Medicare COULD NOT NEGOTIATE for better drug prices.

It is also not surprising that a Democrat like Anna Eshoo would cave in to the drug companies when you know that these same drug companies spent $110 million in the first six months of this year, $690,000 per day, with 1,228 lobbyists to defeat the shortening of the time period for biologics to become generics, so that the People can afford them.

Lobbyists are pervasive and if we do not do something to stop them, this country will soon…soon…collapse. They have no interest in the people, only in the interests of the huge stockholders. (again, the top 1% of Americans own about two-thirds of all corporate stocks.)

This is a fight, a down-and-dirty, old fashioned Five Points street fight to take away your rights, your control of your life, your health, your income and your very right to live. You’d better get in it before it is too late. And it is getting close right now!

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