The Austin Chronicle

The Hightower Report

By Jim Hightower, November 21, 2003, News


Pundits and other political cynics scoff at citizens' efforts to reform America's money-corrupted political process, saying it's as futile as trying to teach table manners to a hog -- the effort wears you out, and it only annoys the hog.

That's cute, but if the cynics would only lift their eyes from their myopic focus on Washington, they would see something big taking place in such diverse states as Maine and Arizona. Citizens in both places have already passed grassroots initiatives providing for dramatic reform -- public financing of elections.

These clean-election initiatives give candidates of any party the chance to finance both their primary and general election campaigns with public funds, provided they forego taking special interest money. Not only does this help get corrupt money out of the process, but it also means a regular person can run for office again, since a school teacher, taxi driver, farmer, shopkeeper, steelworker, or anyone else has access to a pool of money to make them financially competitive with the incumbents.

Maine and Arizona have run two election cycles under clean-money laws, and the results would warm the cockles of the coldest cynic's heart:

There have been more challengers to incumbents than before, with more women, Latinos, and Native Americans running and winning -- half of the challengers using the clean-money option say they would not have run without it.

Because this system creates more choices, offering fresh faces and new ideas, voter turnout is ratcheting upward.

And -- here's the big one -- public financing is working: 59% of Maine's legislators and 36% of those in Arizona have now been elected without taking any tainted money, and publicly funded candidates in Arizona last year won seven of nine statewide offices, including the governor and attorney general.

If you want clean elections, call Public Campaign: 202/293-0222.


Some days, I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or go in for a brain scan.

That's how I felt when I read about the jaw-dropping corporate chutzpah of an outfit named Nabors Industries, physically located in Houston. I say "physically located" because Nabors is one of these notorious corporate abdicators that have legally uprooted themselves from America and formally reincorporated in the tax havens of Bermuda and Barbados.

Thanks to a slick loophole slipped into our country's bizarre tax laws, Nabors Inc. can simply maintain a mail drop and a legal letterhead in these offshore islands and -- hocus pocus! -- escape paying taxes, since technically, it's no longer an American corporation. Last year alone, this Bermuda shell game allowed Nabors to dodge $10 million in taxes owed to the red, white, and blue.

But now this fair-weather patriot suddenly wants Uncle Sam to treat it like an American corporation! Not for tax purposes, of course, but for the purpose of getting some shipbuilding business that is reserved by law for U.S. companies. Nabors wants to have its cake in America, but eat it in Bermuda. A family-owned shipping firm in Louisiana that has to compete with Nabors calls it "grossly unfair that we pay taxes for certain services, and this big corporation goes foreign and they get the benefit of the same services without paying for them."

Yet, Nabors has a hotshot high-dollar Washington lobbyist trying to ram through a behind-the-scenes law that would let it both abandon America and take American business from taxpaying American companies. The lobbyist even is disdainful and insulting to the taxpaying companies that oppose Nabors' power play, saying, "Those are the guys we like to call the whiners."

Well, the lobbyist and executives of Nabors Industries are the guys I like to call treasonous greedheads! Why would Congress even consider helping them take business from family-owned American companies?

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