(A cry in the wilderness to take the money out of politics and save our democracy)
Last Monday, in spite of huge public support and an overwhelming moral imperative, our drug-money addicted Senate voted for monopolistic pharmaceutical industry profits over more affordable drugs for all Americans.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, a vote for free trade in pharmaceuticals with Canada and other countries with strict safety laws would have saved the US $50-billion over 10 years. But with so much Big Pharma money in their pockets – the drug industry spent $172-million on lobbying efforts in 2006 alone – most senators couldn’t have cared less.
By 49 to 40, these masters of hypocrisy voted for American consumers to continue paying the highest prices in the world for brand-name prescription drugs.
Proving that even our wealthiest politicians are susceptible to the Greed Disease that has all but strangled democracy in this country, 15 Democratic senators, led by Ted Kennedy (who, for example, received $225,150 from Big Pharma in 2006), John Kerry, and Jay Rockefeller voted in favor of an amendment to protect Big Pharma’s Kingdom.
Of course, Congress has been little more than the high-priced call girl of corporate interests for at least 30 years now. This drug bill was only the latest nail in the coffin of “of the people, by the people, for the people” democracy, a form of government known and remembered these days only by senior citizens.
Think back. When was the last time Congress passed a bill that benefited your interests, or those of your fellow citizens, without adding gratuitous billions for their contributors?
“Working hard for you!” is part of every politician’s mantra. But truth be told – and with today’s corporatist media it is told less and less – our politicians may go to the state house and Congress with high ideals, but those are soon crushed by the need to raise big money to get re-elected.
In the last three election cycles, spending in Senate races has almost doubled. In 2008, Federal Election Commissioner Michael Toner expects to see the presidential nominees of the two major parties raise $500-million each, up from half that in 2004. Not surprising, the number of registered lobbyists in Washington has gone from 62 in 1968 to 8,000 in the mid-‘80s to about 35,000 today. This includes 2,390 former public officials and some 240 former Congressmen.
According to Public Citizen, lobbyists spent nearly $13-billion from 1998 to 2004 to influence legislation and elections. Today in America, money, not ideas, win elections. Perhaps it has always been thus.
That money – each dollar given with expectations attached – comes from corporations and trade unions, from Wall Street and real estate interests, from law firms, gun-rights groups and, of course, from Big Pharma; from everyone except you and me and the other 300-million citizens of this great country.
The result is apparent to all: We the people now have little or no voice in our government. Even the regulatory bodies created to protect us – the FDA, the USDA, the EPA, the FAA, you name it – today operate solely for special interests (which are usually at odds with your interests and mine).
Today, K Street money blinds Washington’s spine-challenged baby-kissers and their toadies in the news media to the daily struggle of working families. Thirty-seven million Americans live in poverty and close to 60 million others are just a paycheck above the official poverty line. Get sick or miss that paycheck and disaster awaits.
Disenfranchised? Impotent? Fight Back!
The weekend before the Pharma vs. affordability vote, I asked Suddenly Senior readers to call their senators to make their feelings known. Over 2,000 of them proudly e-mailed that they had done just that.
How many of them will take the time to call Washington ever again? Like most Americans, they feel disenfranchised and impotent. And, indeed, they are.
No wonder Americans are so tuned out of politics. I find it surprising that half of us still vote, knowing that, once elected, our so-called representatives will undoubtedly do corporate‘s bidding, not ours.
And with every voter who’s turned off of politics, the status quo rests a bit easier.
Civics, the study of the rights and duties of citizenship, is no longer taught in most American schools. Here in Florida, a budget for civics classes was killed again just last week by our legislature. Such teaching is inherently democratic, and democracy is the enemy of today’s rulers.
Congress is addicted to corporate and union money. Many corporations and unions are addicted to the financial exploitation of the people through laws making such theft legal. And around and around it goes.
Meanwhile, we the people are just plain screwed.
There is an answer, an intervention to this madness. The time is ripe for a massive grassroots campaign for public financing of all elections.
Since the Supreme Court ruled that money equals speech and therefore cannot be tightly controlled in elections, expensive campaigns have undermined what public financing we had. This year, none of the big players took federal matching funds.
A new system must put in place where regardless of how much one candidate spends, the other(s) receive matching funds.
Oh, many will say, that’s way too expensive. But think: What’s our democracy worth? Isn’t having a President who is not neck-deep in obligations worth at least as much as we give to Egypt every year? That $2-billion would go a long way toward ensuring that our candidates will not be beholden to special interests.
Consider: You’re running against me for the Senate. I’m an insider and raise a half million dollars from unions, corporations, lobbyists, etc. You, assuming you’d qualify under fair rules that would encourage third parties, would get exactly that amount without having to promise your first born and the US Treasury to your donors. With no money advantage, I too would opt to receive public financing.
Soon everyone would.
Also, we could:
- Restrict active campaigning to two or three months before Election Day;
- Force media to provide free radio and TV time to candidates (who could buy more time if they wished), in exchange for their licenses to broadcast on the public airwaves;
- Compel candidates to debate each other, to move from sound bites to ideas, and to use fewer attack ads, all under federal regulations of broadcast media; and
- Encourage registration and voting in any way possible including holding elections on holidays.
This is no pipedream.
Arizona and Maine have run clean elections based on public financing for six years now. Today, in those two states, more people vote, candidates are more diverse, and politicians, free from the money chase, say they are relieved to be out from under the pressure of owing favors.
You won’t hear much about this idea from the media. They’re as entrenched in the system as politicians. But if you’re interested in learning more, for starters I suggest that you read Common Cause’s reports on clean elections , read at Public Campaign how you can get clean elections where you live, see Suddenly Senior’s section on “Checking Up On Congress”, and read Jeffrey Birnbaum’s book The Money Men – The Real Story of Fund-raising’s influence on Political Power in America.
According to USA Today, the 49 senators who voted against affordable drugs have received about $5 million from pharmaceutical industry executives and political action committees since 2001. We have the power to stop such legal bribes now.
In exchange for such bribes, lawmakers today are literally giving away our treasury, our country, and our future. We must take it back now before we lose everything.
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