By RICHARD HERTZ
“Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” – Ambrose Bierce (Journalist, Writer 1842 – 1913)
Since this blog will focus a great deal on money in politics, you have a right to know exactly whom I’m talking about when I refer to special interest groups.
Actually, it’s not the special interests that are at the heart of our political problems. Ever since early civilizations began, people quite naturally have been looking out for their own hides. It’s not hard to imagine the back-cave dealings between those who controlled access to the local water supply and tribal leaders who no doubt found a way to channel a little extra flow into their personal cisterns.
There have always been people or groups seeking to influence government for their personal gain. The problem today is soliciting campaign contributions and doing the bidding of special interests has become lawmakers’ main focus. Meanwhile the huge problems facing the country and most Americans are ignored.
So while acknowledging that the demand for campaign donations and other perks is largely driven by lawmakers, let’s nonetheless pull back the curtain and see who some of the biggest contributors are.
Click [here] and you’ll see a list of the interest groups that, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, donated the most money to those running for President and Congress in the 2011 – 2012 election cycle.
In just the first ten months of this period, the finance, insurance and real estate industries made over $120 million in contributions to candidates for federal offices. And that is just from those industries, for only part of one non-election year.
So it is hardly surprising that we have laws that overwhelmingly favor large banks and others in this group, usually at consumers’ expense.
But if we look around a little further on opensecrets.org, we’ll see that big corporate interests are not the only ones investing a lot of money into our political system. Clicking [here] will bring up a list of individual groups or companies that, as opensecrets.org calls them, have been the heavy hitters when it comes to making campaign contributions since 1989.
As you’ll see, most, but not all of the top 15 in this group are unions or groups likely to be sympathetic to the concerns of labor. In that light, it is not surprising that many experts feel the pension obligations made to some public employees are unaffordable and are a ticking time bomb for many municipalities and states.
This is another example of how special interests with very diverse interests can receive favorable treatment from lawmakers dependent on them for large contributions and other forms of support.
Don’t get me wrong. Everyone should have the right to petition or lobby their representatives and donate to whomever they like. The problem is lobbying government officials has become an entire industry, with a huge revolving door shuttling lobbyists into public office and public officials into lobbying jobs.
Can you believe there was actually talk a few years ago, about lobbying firms going public? What would their stock market ticker symbols have been, GFT, CRK, INF? Thank goodness, there’s a three-character limit. Spelling out graft, crooks or influence would probably have been bad for business.
That’s all for me right now. However, it’s worth a few minutes of your time to become familiar with websites like opensecrets.org, followthemoney.org and legistorm.com. They tell the story well, if we’re willing to listen, learn and act.
Bodega Bay resident Richard Hertz owns Hertz Research, which conducts polling for news organizations, public agencies, businesses and other organizations.