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The Hightower Report

We the Corporations?; and Lawmakers Dance With the Devil

By Jim Hightower, Fri., March 5, 2010

We the Corporations?

Who says Americans can't find agreement on anything? All it took to bring us together in determined unity was that black-robed gang of democracy thieves sitting on the Supreme Court.

The latest national poll shows that Americans of all political stripes overwhelmingly oppose the Supremes' recent 5-4 decree allowing unlimited corporate spending in our elections. "Holy Thomas Jefferson," shouted 85% of Democrats to the pollsters, "no!" Likewise, 81% of independents said, "No way." But get this – 76% of Republicans also joined in this emphatic national "uh-uh" to the court's corporatization of our politics. Indeed, the decision was opposed by big majorities of all ages, education levels, and racial categories.

So, with eight out of 10 Americans united in opposition to this gaping wound that the court inflicted on our democracy, we can expect quick action by Congress to heal it. Right?

Uh ... no. First, Republican leaders (who are ever-faithful, tail-wagging kowtowers to any whim of their corporate sponsors) have cheered this unleashing of special-interest money and will oppose any efforts to restrict it. Second, the Democrats' designated leader for dealing with the court's ruling is Sen. Chuck Schumer, a notorious corporate servant whose chief skill is raising corporate campaign cash. Sending Schumer to restrain the political power of corporations is like going lion hunting with a flyswatter.

Sure enough, Schumer is not even considering a constitutional amendment to force these corporate powers out of our elections, instead offering a patchwork of regulatory Band-Aids to cover the wound – but not heal it. To get real action, we have to produce it ourselves. Connect with these two grassroots coalitions: FreeSpeechForPeople.org and MoveToAmend.org.

Lawmakers Dance With the Devil

If you choose to dance with the devil, never flatter yourself that you're in the lead.

This is a fundamental rule that the Congressional Black Caucus apparently has forgotten. An important and effective group of lawmakers who are often the principled voice of progressive values in the U.S. House, the CBC has allowed itself to be swept into the ever-tighter embrace of lobbyists for tobacco giants, drugmakers, insurance interests, and other corporate powers that want legislative favors from the caucus.

To woo the CBC, these corporate devils have put on philanthropic cloaks and are striding through a wide-open loophole in congressional ethics rules. While there are strict limits on lobbyists' donations to lawmakers, special-interest money going to nonprofit charities is largely unregulated. Thus, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which exists to provide educational programs for low-income African-Americans, has received more than $53 million in the past few years from the likes of AT&T, Altria, Eli Lilly, Lockheed Martin, State Farm, and Wal-Mart.

"So what?" sniffs a lobbyist for Lockheed. "Our charitable donations are charitable donations." How diabolically philanthropic of him!

He didn't mention that Lockheed's "charitable donation" bought it a seat on the CBC institute that develops the organization's formal legislative positions, or that CBC's institute – big surprise – recently took a specific position to help Lockheed win a big airport contract in Liberia. Now that's charity with a purpose.

Meanwhile the bulk of the charitable dollars raised by CBC go not to the disadvantaged but to finance lavish dinners, casino events, golf outings, and other extravaganzas where the lobbyists get to schmooze with the lawmakers. And the devil keeps dancing faster and laughing louder.

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