PAC Money Influence
I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the United States of America
And to the Republic for which it stands
One nation under God
Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
But, in Congress, there is another pledge of allegiance. It's not to the flag, but rather to the companies that provide funding for reelection campaigns. And election campaigns for Congress often run nearly a million dollars for each candidate. That's a lot of money to raise every two years. That money doesn't come from companies just for good government, but for proper votes on issues critical to the profits of those companies.
Corporate Political Action Committees (PACs) can donate money directly to candidates (for both primary as well as the general election) and to national election committees. Laws place limits for contributions to individual candidates and political parties.
However, a Federal Election Commission ruling in 1978 created loopholes that allowed large contributions of (so called "soft") money to the national parties, not to support political candidates, but for party building activities. The first soft money contributions began with the 1988 presidential camapaign and have grown rapidly ever since.
A new corporate pledge of allegiance could go something like this:
I pledge allegiance to the companies
Of the United States and the World
And to the profits they shall make;
PAC money for my campaign means
Subsidies and tax breaks for all.
Lobbyists in Washington D.C. seek laws favorable for profits of the companies or organizations they represent. Consider just a couple of lobbies. The agribusiness lobby receives massive subsidies. Consider the following:
Soft Money Buys Influence
In the dust bowl of the 1930s many farm families lost everything they had. Agricultural families accounted for nearly 30% of America's population. Congress reacted by passing a price support program for crops such as wheat, corn, and other grains that saved many farmers. Price supports helped family farmers make it through those hard times.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has subsidized farmers for growing such crops as corn, wheat, barley, oats, sorghum, cotton, and rice. These subsides take the form of guaranteed prices per bushel. If the farmer can sell his produce at a price above the USDA guaranteed price, the USDA pays nothing. If the farmer sells below the guaranteed price, the USDA makes up the difference with a "deficiency payment." On average, the USDA pays farmers about $10 billion per year.
Guaranteed prices encourage farmers to produce as much as possible on every acre they plant. The oversupply of produce drives market prices down below the USDA minimum price, and guarantees a hefty USDA payout to farmers.
The USDA attempts to control its "deficiency" payouts by reducing supply,
thus driving up market prices. One technique the USDA uses is to require
farmers to participate in another subsidy program in which a certain portion
of their farmland is idle. Another USDA program is the Conservation Reserve
Program (CRP) in which the USDA pays annual rent of about $1.8 billion
to farmers who agree to let their land remain idle for 10 years. The amount
of land the USDA is "renting" is approximately the size of Iowa. In America's
big cities, 852 absentee farmers receive $388 million in rent and subsidies.
Today, with only a few percent of the population on highly mechanized farms, this price support program continues to subsidize the relatively few individuals involved in the agribusiness. In fact, the program has been expanded to include growers of Christmas trees, tropical fish, and turf grass.
Ethanol, a corn based galoline substitute, originated during the 1970s energy crisis. With over $10 billion in subsidies from the Federal treasury, the public reaps practically no benefit. Subsidies come in two forms: a 54 cents per gallon tax credit for companies that blend ethanol and an exemption from federal excise taxes at the gas pump. These subsidies cost U.S. taxpayers between $770 million a $1 billion a year. This represents a subsidy of $23 per barrel of oil displaced at a time when oil costs only about $18 a barrel. Fully 70% of all ethanol is produced by agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland. ADM garners about $75 million in profits from this subsidy alone. About 40% of ADM's profits arise from government subsidized or protected products such as sugar, ethanol, grain exports, and other programs.
Gasohol, the 10% blend of ehtanol, is an inefficient fuel source that is no kinder to the environment than gasoline. Ethanol's claims to fame relate to a reduced use of peterolem and reduced pollutants. On both counts, the General Accounting Office is less than enthausastic. It states that "Ethanol tax incentives have not significantly enhanced U.S. energy security" and ehtanol reduces U.S. gasoline consumption by "less than one percent." Further, GAO states that "Available evidence suggests that the ethanol program has little effect on the environment." Eliminating ethanol subsidies would "slightly increase carbon monoxide emissions ... but slightly reduce emissions of ozone precursors." Regarding global warming, the GAO indicates that the "change in greenhouse gas emissions that would occur if ethanol fuel were not subsidized is likely to be minimal." Other sources indicate that the entire production cycle, including the use of fossile fuels and nitrogen fertilizers in farming, cause gasohol greenhouse gas emissions to exceed those of gasoline by 25%.
Archer Daniels Midland, which reportedly reaps half the government subsidies, contributes millions of dollars to candidates who support ethanol subsidies.
ADM Chariman Dwayne Andreas recently told a reporter for Mother Jones, "There isn't one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free maket is in the speeches of politicians. People who are in the Midwest do not understand that this is a socialist country." The Washington Post described Andreas as "one the of great financial 'switch hitters' of American politics," meaning that ADM will bankroll any politician who supports ethanol or sugar subsidies regardless of political creed or ideological convictions.
Though Mr. Ethanol himself, Bob Dole (who received $74,000 in campaign and PAC contributions from ADM between 1979 and 1996), is no longer a factor on the legislative side, others are tracing his steps. Falling in line with the ethanol lobby, Representative Lane Evans, D-Ill., co-chair of the House Alcohol Fuels Caucus said, "If this exemption is eliminated, it will mean higher costs on households and a breach of faith with America's farmers."
Florida Sugar Cane Lobby
In 1948 Congress authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to construct 1,500 miles of canals and levees in southern Florida to control flooding and promote sugar cane farming in the Everglades. Over 700,000 acres thus prepared for farming became known as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). For decades, sugar growers have drained lands and dammed up water, interrupting normal water flow in the Everglades. Runoff from farming includes phosphorus that harms plants and animals. Nearly 1.5 million acres of wetlands has vanished.
The Federal government, as the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), provides non recourse loans and restricts imports of foreign produced sugar to maintain artificially high sugar prices. The loans are made to sugarcane processors who purchase the crop at a guaranteed price. They can hold the final product for up to nine months in an attempt to get a price higher than the USDA's minimum price, after which they repay the loan. If the market price does not exceed the USDA's minimum price, the processors can "default" on their loan and give their product to the USDA which accepts it as payment in full. The "minimum" price is typically double the world market price.
The sugar subsidy costs U.S. taxpayers (by varying estimates) between $1.4 and $3 billion a year in higher food prices. The annual subsidy results in 33 sugar farmers receiving more than $1 million each with one Florida family receiving $65 million. But those who support this lobby, like Congressman Sander Levin, receive substantial PAC money contributions.
These subsidies and price supports encourage more sugar production than is needed. High production requires use of pesticides, herbicides and phosphate heavy fertilizer. About 80% of phosphorus used in fertilizing sugar cane crops leaches into the groundwater and into the Everglades and on into Florida Bay. Aa a result, an increasing mass of plant algae within Florida Bay is making its way through the Florida Keys to the Atlantic, suffocating the only coral reef off North America. Cleanup will cost over a billion dollars. A recent farm bill included $200 million added by Senator Bob Dole to restore the Everglades, the Florida Bay and southern coral reefs.
The tobacco lobby spent $43.3 million on 192 Washington lobbyists in the first half of 1998 to ensure good government. That amounts to $81,000 per member of Congress. This does not count that $40 million spend on advertising or more than $5 million on "soft" money and PAC contributions. Brown and Williamson alone spent $18.2 million while Philip Morris spent $14.4 million. The tobacco lobby spares no expense when it comes to protecting their profits. That's a lot of PAC Money to ensure "good" government.
There are some "big" names on the list of tobacco lobbyists. Among them are Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, former Texas Governor Ann Richards, former White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker and former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour. Howard Baker registered as a tobacco lobbyist in October, 1997. What is amazing about this is he lost both his wife Joy and his father-in-law, Senator Everret Dirksen, to lung cancer.
Tobacco companies are the largest contributors of PAC money to friendly candidates and "soft" money to the Republican Party's national committees. In fact, four of the top ten donors are tobacco companies.
During the first half of 1998, tobacco settlement legislation was being
reconsidered by Congress. Some factors in the settlement included a $368.5
billion payment by the tobacco industry over 25 years to government in
exchange for legal protection including caps on lawsuits for past misconduct.
Tobacco lobbyists fought various punitive measures and Senate Republicans
killed increasing the settlement from $368.5 to $516 billion. In efforts
to reduce the number of tobacco lawsuits, a cap on attorney's fees was
supported that limited suing attorney's fees to $500 per hour (when they
had been getting $4,000 per hour).
Although the practice has stopped now, John Boehner, Chairman of the House Republican Conference, had been known to pass out campaign checks from the Brown and Willaimson Tobacco Company on the floor of the House while Congress was in session.
It is common practice for "big tobacco" and other special interest groups to host conferences for members of Congress at posh resorts. For example, in 1997 the Tobacco Institute flew lawmakers to the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Complete with a twenty-seven hole championship golf course, swimming pools, Jacuzzis, tennis courts, the lawmakers had ample opportunity to attend many working sessions to hear of the plight of the poor tobacco farmers and share ideas with one another.
Or how about the twenty or so members of Congress who were invited to the Boca Raton Beach and Resort Club in Florida to attend the Jack Africk Invitational Tennis Tournament. Jack Africk, a high official for a smokeless and pipe tobacco company sponsored the event. Several members were paid handsomely for speaking and appearing at the event.
Lobbying efforts are not restricted to lobbyists visiting Congressman and hosting them at posh resorts. Many professional "marketing" agencies in Washington assist organizations in support of or in opposition to proposed legislation.
The Sugar Alliance hired Bonner & Associates (started by Jack Bonner, former aid to the late Senator John Heinz) to help fight restrictions on the sugar subsidy. Bonner uses such tactics as having telemarketers read scripted messages to citizens, get them angry, and patch them through to Congressional offices as if they are just concerned citizens calling their Congressman. Another tactic is to solicit signed petitions to be faxed in by individuals and copy their signitures to a large petition that appears as if a grass roots campaign went door-to-door obtaining signitures. Other tactics include letter writing campaigns claiming status as a "grassroots effort" describing the evil intent of the "big boys in Washington" and encouraging the plain old "folks in your state" to take action by writing to their representatives or to a regulatory organization. One such letter writing campaign by Bonner nearly brough OSHA to its knees as 105,000 letters deluged them during attempts to prepare a ruling on workplace smoking.
PAC Money's Sickening Effect
In a letter to Speaker Newt Gingrich, Lloyd Doggett, Bill Luther, and Lynn Rivers wrote, "If members of the House are allowed to pass around special interest checks in the very room where they are sworn to conduct the people's business, it is only a matter of time before the United States Capital is bought and paid for."
It's time we bring this longing after corporate PAC money to an end. In giving millions of dollars away, corporations do not seek "good government." Rather, corporations seek government that is good for them. Their PAC money pays the peoples' representatives to make decisions, not in the best interest of constituents, but in favor of large PAC donors.
We must enact ethical standards that ensure our Congressmen and Senators actually represent the voters who sent them to Washington. We must insist that our elected representatives and political parties be:
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Copyright © 2003 Robert Sherman
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