The business of Capitol Hill has become a feeding frenzy for corporate campaign contributors, to the tune of $600 million in the last election cycle. Case in point: Rep. Jim McCrery, Bush's right-hand man for Social Security, who has accepted hundreds of thousands from Wall Street securities firms. But corruption only thrives when Congress is allowed to operate beyond the reach of the public eye. Ellen Miller—with the Project For An Accountable Congress—explains why constituents must be the checks and balances on corruption.
Ellen Miller is deputy director of the Campaign For America's Future and co-director of Project For An Accountable Congress .
Americans know all too well the corrupting influence of money on the political process. But combine rigidly ideological politicians with a party that has an iron lock on power in Washington and you’ve got the most corrupt Congress in recent memory.
The right wing has control of the White House and both houses of Congress, eliminating the checks and balances on power that America’s founders intended. Campaign contributions—even after reforms—have soared. The business of Capitol Hill has become a feeding frenzy for corporate campaign contributors.
The top 50 industry contributions added up to more than $600 million in the last election cycle alone.
Watch how swiftly the Senate will reward their credit card company contributors by passing the bankruptcy bill. Barely a month after the swearing in of the 109th Congress, lawmakers paid off corporations with the passage of the class action bill—which shields them from liability for negligence and curbs a citizen’s right to sue.
Now do we have your attention? Next on the agenda, Republicans in Congress will be pushing a budget that cuts funding for schools even as it slashes taxes for millionaires, and an energy plan that pays off big oil interests, while making us more dependent on foreign oil. That's just a flavor of what the right-wing agenda has in store for this Congress.
Corruption in Congress only survives when politicians are free to operate outside of the public's watch. By shining a bright light into Congress' shadowy halls and back rooms, we can make sure that what happens in the dark is exposed in lawmaker's hometowns—where, after all, it counts the most. If the corruption of Congress is just seen as an institutional problem no one gets the blame. That's why the Campaign for America’s Future is looking at individual lawmakers whose positions and votes on issues—juxtaposed with their campaign money and questionable ethics—make them stand out as the emblems of the rampant corruption that has overtaken the institution.
One of the leaders of this corrupt and unethical Congress is House Majority leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay. Not only has DeLay been rebuked multiple times by the usually moribund bipartisan House Ethics Committee, he also faces indictment in a fundraising scandal in Texas where a number of his aides have already been brought to justice. Instead of removing DeLay from his leadership post, though, the Republican majority shot the judge. Earlier this month, they booted the Ethics Committee chair, removed the two Republicans from the committee who threatened to act independently and replaced them with DeLay loyalists.
With DeLay setting the tone, there is no question that the corporate feeding frenzy will ensue.
Likely the biggest payoff will be to securities and commercial banking companies that are among the biggest contributors to Congress—to the tune of more than $100 million in the last election cycle—when President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security starts to move through Congress.
Enter Rep. Jim McCrery , a Republican from Louisiana. He’s the new chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee, and the lynchpin in President Bush’s plan to ram his plan through Congress.
Rep. McCrery has pocketed more than $200,000 since 2000 from the banking and securities companies that will benefit from privatization of the Social Security system. In the last cycle alone, his contributions from this sector increased by 42 percent. Imagine what the contributions will look like in this election cycle!
These companies have reason to give McCrery big bucks. Dr. Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist, has estimated that the president’s Social Security privatization plan could result in nearly $1 trillion for financial services firms.
McCrery—after initially resisting the president’s privatization plan—recently embraced it. But this is about more than just a flip-flop. Thousands of people in his district and tens of millions nationwide will see their guaranteed benefits cut because of decisions McCrery will make. He can’t make those decisions fairly with Wall Street’s money in his pocket.
His judgment on Social Security cannot be trusted. His campaign contribution record and his ties to lobbyists (two former staffers now work for the trade association pushing the legislation to privatize Social Security) should make anyone—particularly his own constituents in Louisiana—question whether he will be exercising his responsibilities on their behalf or helping out his Wall Street backers. How can Rep. McCrery possibly make decisions about Social Security in the interest of his constituents when his biggest campaign contributors have him in their pocket?
Some might say that the situation with McCrery is business as usual in Congress. But according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, 80 percent of Americans believe that politicians often do special favors for people and groups who give them campaign contributions. We say that Congressman better keep his eyes open.
Even the conservative-leaning Supreme Court has recognized the link between money and lawmakers' judgement. In ruling on the McCain-Feingold legislation, the Court said, “To claim that [campaign contributions] do not change legislative outcomes surely misunderstands the legislative process.”
We’d love to get into a debate with Rep. McCrery about whether campaign cash corrupts the political process. Or better yet, it's a debate he should have with his constituents.