Monday, August 6, 2007

The Best Government Money Can Buy 3

Limit the number of lobbyists, the amount of money they are able to donate, and require a ten year ban on government officials and employees from joining or lobbying for corporations in which they have worked on legislation for.

My next suggestion for returning our democracy to the people concerns lobbyist and special interest groups. For the purpose of demonstrating how off track the process is, I will refer to the recent legislation of adding the prescription drug bill to Medicare. If witnessing the blatant influence peddling and quid pro quo of this lobbying effort by the pharmaceutical companies in conjunction with our government officials does not elicit anger and outrage then I am afraid nothing will.

Here is some quick background on the bill for those who missed the slaughter of our legislative process. The purpose of the bill was to provide affordable prescription drug benefits to Medicare for seniors who were spending too much money for medication not covered under the current Medicare plan. On the surface this seemed like a noble and appropriate task for the government to do, it was part of President Bush’s domestic agenda and bipartisanship was suppose to ensure that the bill would address the concerns of all Americans. What was supposed to be a modest increase in an existing program turned into the biggest government giveaway and new program in 40 years, so much for fiscally conservative. The only times these guys are fiscally conservative is when it is something that may benefit the working poor or just plain poor people in general (minimum wage, food stamps, etc.).

Now here is where the picture gets fuzzy, once the bill began to be constructed and debated it became extremely difficult to distinguish the lobbyist from the government staffers and elected officials. It was only after the bill passed and was signed that we realized why it was so difficult to tell who was who, it appears that a number of government employees were actually auditioning for new jobs with the pharmaceutical companies. How is this possible?

On June 23, 2004, Public Citizen released a study noting that:

Drug Industry and HMOs Deployed an Army of Nearly 1,000 Lobbyists to Push Medicare Bill

Special Interests Spent $141 Million in 2003, Hired 431 Lobbyists With "Revolving Door" Connections to Congress and the White House

"The revolving door between the White House and K Street has made the Bush administration indistinguishable from the industry," said Craig Aaron, senior researcher for Public Citizen's Congress Watch and lead author of the report.

"If it wasn't bad enough that most of the key negotiators working on the Medicare bill were preparing to cash in on K Street as soon as it passed, Bush has brought in more drug industry and HMO insiders to implement and promote this disastrous new law."[1]

The number of lobbyist working Washington DC in 2005 was 34,750; this is double the number since 2000. This is ridiculous. How can we expect our representatives to get anything done when they are swimming in a sea of sharks? Of these 34,750 lobbyists, how many do you think represent the middle-class, working poor and poor people of this country? Why is it that we can’t regulate the industries in which the rich dominate? We need to begin to regulate this industry today. This isn’t some group of guys trying to make an honest buck working their tails off; no, these are the influence peddlers and corporate minions hijacking our democracy.

Next, we need to limit the amount of money corporations and special interest groups and donate to any political party or candidate. This isn’t about 1st Amendment freedoms; those freedoms were designed for people. We have been hoodwinked into believing that by limiting these funds that we are impeding the rights of corporations. Corporations have no rights under the Constitution; they only have the rights we accord them. They are not entitled to freedom of speech, equal protection, or any of the other rights we afford to humans. Congressman Walter Jones puts it this way.

As Jones put it, “the pharmaceutical lobbyists wrote the bill.” It is amazing that an industry can control the rules and regulations made to govern them. How long will the American people put up with this?[2]

Legislation is no longer being written by our elected officials, it is being written by the same people it is suppose to restrain. Imagine if you will a major polluter being able to not only influence, but write the legislation that will set the standards that it will have to live by; amazing! Whatever happened to government oversight? It appears ladies and gentlemen that anything is possible in DC so long as you are the highest bidder. I can only echo Mr. Jones, “How long will the American people put up with this?”

The next area for overhaul is the policy of elected officials and staffers passing legislation and then going to work for the industry benefitted by the legislation before the ink can dry on the bill. Example: Congressman Billy Tauzin, R-La steered the drug bill through the House and for all of his hard work he received a 2 million dollar a year lobbyist job for guess who? He became president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the chief lobby for brand-name drug companies. This goes beyond the laughable, if it wasn’t so tragic. The sad thing about it is Mr. Tauzin is not the only one using the revolving door from government to industry and vice versa. Remember our current Vice-President used the same revolving door to go from Halliburton to his current position in Never, Neverland.

I propose that there be a 10 year waiting period for all elected officials and staffers to go from government to an industry in which they had input into legislation. If this were done I guarantee you all this quid pro quo would be reduced. We must send a message to industry and our elected officials that influence peddling and corruption will not be tolerated. We want government, by the people and for the people to mean something once again.



[1] http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1733

[2] http://www.easyarticles.com/article.php?action=fullnews&id=48810

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