Too Much Money and Power to End the Influence of Money and Power


The United States Congress—A Call to College Students
 

There is little doubt in most people’s minds that the United
States Congress is in state of total and perhaps irreconcilable collapse. It
simply no longer works as it was constitutionally created to work and a great
deal of dithering surrounds the causes, specifically, presumed by both
conservatives and liberals to be a stand-off in principle.
That’s utter nonsense. Our 237 year history of legislative function has
always been a philosophical battleground in Washington and the nation was
shaped by meeting those differences with level-headed negotiation, if not detachment.
Negotiation between partisan interests seems to have bailed on us and the
question is whether it can be rehabilitated. Lincoln’s ‘a house divided against
itself cannot stand’ has never been more prescient. Not only is the House
divided against itself, but the Senate and, perhaps, the nation as well.


But why? Why now, when America is in turmoil, stricken by joblessness, a
shrinking middle class, economic chaos and the fears that each of these difficulties
multiply, while our elected representatives stand mute, jaws dropped and caught
in the headlights of their own fears? Prior to rehabbing anything, be it a
building, a drug addiction or a business, the logical approach is to assess the
damage, see where it came from and make a cold-heated judgment of success.
Let’s try to do this, together and as clear-eyed as possible under the
circumstances.
Liberals (if any survive) blame Conservatives, Conservatives
blame debt and taxes, the nation blames

gridlock and the Tea Party blames
everyone. For the sake of my argument—and what is an essay, if not an
argument?—let’s set aside blame-games and concentrate on the influence of money
in Congress.

Certainly that’s a supportable argument, the joint is awash in it
and money knows no favorites in either party or philosophy—it’s an
equal-opportunity swindle. The upside for me is that both liberals and
conservatives may read on, along with a Tea Partier or two. All are invited to
the conversation and all opinions are welcome.

The current chaos is of its own making, born and bred in the
legislature and racing out of control down to an unknown finish-line. This race
will either end in a house that does not stand or a long, tortuous and lonely
road to rehab—this is where the college students come in, stay with me.

For context, look back to 1995, the heyday of Newt Gingrich,
Grover Norquist and Tom DeLay, when they hatched the K-Street Project. Its
intention was to tie lobby-money to Republicans, offering access in return. Its
unintended consequence should have
been obvious, but these guys were on a roll and drunk with power.
It all began, if such things have actual beginnings, after the 1994 elections, giving
majority control to Republicans. DeLay called all the big-shot Washington
lobbyists into his office and pulled the public records of political
contributions that they made to Democrats and Republicans from a desk-drawer.
According to Texans for Public Justice, “he reminded them that Republicans
were in charge and their political giving had better reflect that—or else. The
‘or else’ was a threat to cut off access to the Republican House
leadership.” (Wikipedia)
Thus was hatched K-Street. Lobbyists just grinned and took
the deal, knowing tides come and go, but they were witness to a tsunami. Money
began to pour. They had as much as needed and need turned out to be a tsunami
as well. The missed unintended consequence
was that as House and Senate change hands, money pours both ways and once
having made their deal with the Devil, Congress became pawns rather than
masters of K-Street.
That was made illegal twelve years later, with the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of
2007
, banning members of Congress (or staff) from using political power to
influence employment decisions of private entities, but the beat went on,
regardless. Now disclosure must be made
and the only difference is that now we know
the numbers. A neat trick, akin to police posting limits, but no tickets
issued. 
K-Street thrives on fear in Congress. Fear permeates the place beyond the small manageable fears
of not getting a proper committee assignment or that almost unknown fear of the
voters back home. How low can you go, below a 9% approval rating? It’s morphed
into the fear of not stashing enough cash to get re-elected—an almost
unsurmountable pile– averaging $6 million for a Senator and half that for a
Representative. That’s an average, some races costing tens of millions. A
Senator must raise $20-30,000 a week, just to maintain parity. Not allowed by
law to solicit from their offices, they maintain private cubicles across the
street in commercial space, where they grind out 2 ½ hours a day, like low-paid
workers in a calling center. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners are devoted to
attending their own or a fellow Senator’s fundraising events.
But don’t take it from me, read what retired Senator Fritz
Hollings has to say, after forty  years
in the Senate (October 14, 2010):
“Money, a growing cancer in politics, needs to be excised. In my seventh
election to the United States Senate in 1998, I had to raise $8.5 million. $8.5
million factors to $30,000 a week, each week, every week, for six years. It’s
not just raising campaign funds the year ahead of the election any more. In
order to raise this sum, you have to travel the country and still depend on
Washington assistance. To get that assistance you have to raise money for other
Senators who are up during the six years in order to get their assistance when
you’re up. Thus, the beginning of Washington influence on local elections. Tip
O’Neill’s rule that: “All politics is local,” has changed to
“most politics is national.” The national media and pundits have
taken over campaigns.
The 1971 and 1973 Congress limited spending in federal campaigns. The
vote was bi-partisan and President Richard Nixon signed both measures into law.
The Congressional intent was to prohibit the buying of the office. But the
Supreme Court in Buckley vs. Valeo, set aside the ’73 Act and now requires
candidates for office to veritably buy the seat. The Court limited the freedom
of speech with money, amending Madison’s first amendment to the Constitution.
Now, we have Corzine in New Jersey spending $60 million of his own money to be
elected to the United States Senate; Bloomberg spending $109 million to be
Mayor of New York, and Meg Whitman spending $118 million in the California
Governor’s primary and the election is not until November. In Citizens United
the Supreme Court now has permitted Corporate America to secretly buy the
office. All a corporation has to do is to contribute to a 501(c)(4) group and
the State has lost its ability to elect its own Congressman or Senator. Last
minute out-of-state money elected Brown to the U. S. Senate in Massachusetts;
Miller in the Republican primary in Alaska; O’Connell in the Republican primary
in Delaware. In “The Secret Election” The New York Times
editorializes against corporate takeovers: “…the advocacy committees
that are sucking in many millions of anonymous corporate dollars, making this
the most secretive election cycle since the Watergate years.”
Today, Congress spends most of its time on the needs of the campaign with
little time for the needs of the country. When I came to the U. S. Senate in
1966, Mansfield, the Majority Leader, had a vote nine o’clock every Monday
morning to ascertain a quorum to do business. And on Friday he kept us in until
five o’clock in the afternoon. Now Congress spends Mondays and Fridays out of
Washington raising money. In Washington on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays
Senators have fund raisers at breakfast, lunch and dinner. A special week each
month is reserved for fund raising, with Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays
merged to go to California and New York to fund raise. The Republican or
Democratic lunches on Tuesdays are mostly to strategize fund raisers for
Senators up for re-election. Thursday’s policy lunches are now canceled so that
Senators can go to the party headquarters in the District for two hours to make
calls for money. With committee meetings and floor debates, there is little
time left to see constituents, only contributors. Senators of one party seldom
work with Senators of the opposite party. It used to be different — but when
Republican Senators on my Commerce Committee had a fund raiser against me in
Washington and all except Ted Stevens attended, I had the feeling that, if they
wanted to get rid of me, I wanted to get rid of them. This explains the
partisanship.
Washington is full of pollster politicians. The first rule of the
pollster is: “Never divide the voters. Comment on both sides of an issue
and answer you’re ‘concerned,’ you’re ‘troubled.'” You’re taught not to
lead — do nothing, just vote the poll and raise money. The real needs of a
country, like a Marshall Plan, are never found in a political poll. This allows
the Washington lobbyists with the money to run Congress. For example, Grover
Norquist of the Americans for Tax Reform obtains a commitment against taxes
long before a senator can be elected. Any senator wanting to pay the bill for
government is talking to a fixed jury. The cover of a recent issue of Time
headlines: “The Best Laws Money Can Buy. $3.5 billion was spent on
lobbying last year. Why that’s the biggest bargain in town.” And rather
than covering the issues, the media covers the ups and downs of the parties by
covering the money. The headline in USA Today was “Big cash edge for GOP
in state bids.”
Like a dog chasing its tail, Congress has tried for thirty-five years to
control spending in federal elections, only to be thwarted by the Supreme
Court, intent on equating speech with money. To return to Madison’s freedom of
speech, Congress needs to pass a Joint Resolution amending the Constitution
“to authorize Congress to limit or control spending in federal
elections.” I proposed such a Joint Resolution, obtaining bi-partisan
approval of the majority of the U. S. Senate, but never the two-thirds required
to amend the Constitution. Then Phil Gramm made it a partisan issue, telling
me: “When you Democrats give up the unions, we’ll give up the money.”
The Republicans were in control my last three years in the Senate, but they
would never call a Joint Resolution for consideration for fear of having to
vote on the Hollings amendment limiting spending. Shortly after I introduced my
amendment, the Governors’ Conference called asking that money be limited in
state elections. My point is that the people would approve such a Joint
Resolution in a New York minute. They resent the corruption of money in
politics.”
Fear of reprisal reigns as well, from Grover
Norquist, the NRA, committee chairmanships, the Republican and Democratic base
(however you define that) and being dumped by your own party in an upcoming
election. Don’t laugh, it’s happened to some big names. Unlike the banks and
Wall Street, the United States Congress is not ‘too big to fail,’ it’s too
fearful to function.
The why of it is as old as Congress, old as our American
Republic. If you control legislation, you essentially have complete power over
whatever large or small part of America that interests you. As an example, since
1994, Grover Norquist has single-handedly controlled the tax debate with his
iron-clad pledge by all Republican
Senators and Congressmen never to
vote to raise taxes—any taxes. A few
defied him and those few are no longer in the Congress, as Norquist’s
fear-factor operates to gag common sense and responsibility. All right, the
point has been made, we’ll leave it there.
The solution is elusive
as mercury in the
palm of your hand. Certainly Congress hasn’t the backbone to change itself
under the present circumstances of privilege and fear. 
A Congress that has seen fit to live by the sword of monied political
influence is not likely to choose to die by that sword. This (and earlier)
Congresses changed the laws to make fraud and corruption legal and thereby have
changed the language as well. In other advanced Western nations, fraud and
corruption are subject to prison terms. In America they are known as lobbying
and perfectly legal ‘political action committees.’ The Congress declared it so
and the Supreme Court confirmed their theft of our constitutional right to
representative government. We are ‘represented,’ but by money rather than public
interest.

Actually, the Congress wishes it otherwise as well, a return to simpler
times, but they boxed themselves in and now must live in that box, while they
and the nation twist in the wind. 
Ten Percent of the Senate chose to ride off into the sunset
with Fritz Hollings, rather than run again under present circumstances; Max Baucus, D-Mont., (6 terms), Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., (2 terms), Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, (5 terms), Mike Johanns, R-Neb., (1 term), Tim Johnson, D-S.D., (3 terms), Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., (5 terms), Carl Levin, D-Mich., (6 terms), Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., (5 terms), Jim DeMint, R-S.C., (2 terms) and John Kerry, D-Mass., off to be Secretary
of State, (5 terms).
180 years of combined experience gone, disappearing over the
horizon, as guys like Jon Corzine spend over $62 million to sit in their chair.
It’s been a long time since Mr. Smith went to Washington.
But the dilemma must be
solved
or the very
fabric of the Republic, already frayed and torn, will fall to pieces at our
feet. We are too good for that, too inventive, robust, multi-cultural,
hard-working and free to allow such a thing to happen to our treasured
Republic. It is common for argument to haul out a Thomas Jefferson quote, polish
it up a bit and present it like a mouse dropped at the feet. But two are useful
to this discussion:
“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within
limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the
limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so
when it violates the rights of the individual.”
Certainly the laws the Congress has
drawn to protect and conserve itself
are tyrannical and in direct conflict to our rights as citizens.
“I place economy among the first and most important republican virtues,
and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared. To preserve our
independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.”
‘Economy’ is no longer in our
lexicon. A self-serving and feckless Congress replaced problem-solving with
borrowed money, to kick the cans of incredible problems here at home down the
road. Inattention, disinterest and self-interest all combined to shackle the
nation to the oars of perpetual debt.
If not this, then what? Presuming the Congress incapable of
curing its own disease, only two directions are possible–rehabilitation or
collapse. 
Collapse of the financial system and its attendant social breakdown is a closer
reality than when markets faltered in 2008. That’s a whole different discussion
but, should it occur, we (along with the rest of the world) will be brought to
our knees and forced to begin again, crafting a more equitable and sustainable
form of capitalism. That’s a solution in itself, but the pain to nearly all classes
of Americans is almost too brutal to contemplate. We have been there before and
survived. We will again survive as a nation and as a culture, having learned
bitter lessons and moving forward, no doubt the stronger for it. No nation in
the world is better at overcoming the overwhelming. Which brings me to the only
other apparent possibility (to me, at least).
Rehabilitation will require the young, the strong, the brightest and best.
Students must take to the streets in a quiet, coordinated and relentless
campaign against a Congress that willingly and self-servingly gave over the
will of the people to the will of America’s monied interests. 
Every time Harry Reid or any Democrat shows his face, quiet
demonstrations must attend, dogging Harry, questioning the $25 million he
raised for re-election, where he got it and how he voted in his benefactors’
favor. Same for Mitch McConnell. Every single member of Congress has to get the
same treatment, shamed individually on every possible occasion, made to scurry
like cockroaches, exposed to the light and delight of the evening news cameras.
Write articles, blog, hand out flyers (our nation was born on the printed
hand-out), poster your neighborhood, speak on campus and flash-mob as often as
you find a reason and a target. Go to jail if you must, but go to the college
campus nearby and organize. Be relentless, this is far more important
work than the Occupy Movement.
Over 50% of college graduates are currently jobless. The million and a half students, who can’t
find work
, have to take over where I and my generation failed to do our
part. Students are scattered all over the nation, a flash-mobber’s dream. They
don’t need to hitch a ride to DC to demonstrate. They can be seen and heard in
coordinated groups across the country and who is better at flash-mobs than
students? They got out the vote for Barack Obama and it’s time for politicians
to realize those votes can be withdrawn. Scare the hell out of them, including
the President. Martin Luther King, Jr. got civil rights by demonstrating civil rights.
Student loans just eclipsed the $1 trillion mark. A thousand-billion
dollar
indebtedness so that 53% of graduates couldn’t find a job. That’s more
than the total of all American credit-card debt and it’s held by our children,
simply to educate themselves for a workforce that has no place for them. Harvard
sits on a $30 billion endowment, Yale $19 billion, Stanford $17 billion, MIT
$10 billion and their graduates sit on impossible debt.
Here’s a job for you, while you live with
mom and dad and waiter to help out. Hound
the Representative from your district. He’s near enough to hound. If he won’t
show, picket his office. Your average representative spent $1,770,000 to get himself
elected in 2012. Where did he get the dough? How has he voted? All that
information is available at OpenSecrets.org and other tracking sites. Ask him.
Get out and do it, college grads. Do it for yourself, your
country, your future and for me as well, because I didn’t do it—not when I should have and so it falls to you. I’m
sorry for that, but sorrow doesn’t change things and your voices are strong,
your energy, resources, organizational skills and skin-in-the-game impossible
to ignore.

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