The US Constitution guarantees a number of Basic Rights:
In the Bill of Rights –
Right to choose your own religion
Right to peaceful assembly
Right to speak your mind
Right for the media to cover any piece they want
Right to petition against the government or more specifically, laws
Right to a trial by jury
Right to not quarter soldiers
Right to bear arms
Some of these rights are universal and eternal, such as the freedom of speech, while others are obsolete, or should be, such as the right to bear arms, which made sense only during the War of Independence when militias were a needed support force against Britain.
This piece is about the Right to Petition: “Congress shall make no law… abridging… the right of the people to… petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
It sounds good, and it served the people well for the greater part of a century, but back when it was drafted and passed, there were no such things as gigantic corporations and mercenary lobbying firms. Now, it contains a loophole big enough to sail a super-tanker through, resulting from which the US is now run by “the best government money can buy”.
Indeed, is the US of A even run by its own government? Ask anyone who the world’s most powerful person is, and most would say the American president. But the president himself can tell you that he is not even the most powerful person in his own country. If a superlative is to be used, he is no more than being the biggest puppet in the land, the lesser puppets numbering 535.
And who are the puppet master(s)? Corporations and their lobbyists.
In the national capital, there are 435 Members of the House and 100 Senators, totalling 535 Members of Congress. And the number of lobbyists? Over 14,000, each and every one of whom holding a number of strings connected to the hands and feet of politicians. In turn, these lobbyists are the strings in the hands of their own corporate masters.
On the surface, lobbyists are subservient to the high-brow politicians, and often have to “kiss their asses”, but in essence, it is the reverse. It is specific corporations, via the lobbyists, that put specific politicians in power, and it is the politicians that have to do the bidding of the corporations.
Not only that. The politicians have to repay the corporations for their favors – 100-fold, literally.
We have all heard of government bailouts of corporations in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown. Is this for the good of the country? NO. It is for the good of the corporation. It is a huge pay back for previous big favors. For example, in 2008 Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae spent $9.6 million in lobbying, and received over $200 billion in US taxpayers money in its 2009 bailout.
The pre-crash figure of corporate lobbying amounted to some $6.7 billion, including $2.2 million from AIG, $8.4M from General Motors, $2.8 from Goldman-Sachs, >$3.3M from Kraft, $26M from MFRS Trade Assoc., >$6.7M from Microsoft, >$8.6M from Monsanto, $22M from PFIZER, $6M from Qualcom Inc., and >$3.5M from Sallie Mae, while the bailout of corporations totalled some $700 billion.
Other than the bailouts, there are also the payoffs. For example, in 2009, Exxon spent $25M in lobbying and $15M in 2011, but receives $30 Billion in tax breaks in 2010, an amount that could have been, or should have been, allocated to green technology R&D.
Such is the present-day state of the “Right to Petition”, the front line petitioners being the 14,000 registered lobbyists and untold number of unregistered lobbyists, NOT the average Joe on the street.
So where do these thousands of lobbyists come from if not from the grassroots? There are three main sources:
1. Membership base, e.g. the National Rifle Association (NRA, 4.5 million members) which of course lobbies on gun and hunting issues, and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP, 40 million members) which focuses on insurance and seniors issues.
2. Financial base, from the business and professional sectors including medicine, realty, law, and mostly large businesses.
3. Former-government personnel, including ex-congressmen, ex-judges, etc., whose previous salaries were in the $300,000 range, and whose income as leading lobbyists could be in excess of $1 million. They do not, as often thought, “go back to the farm” or “hang up the shingle again” after their public service, but instead use the tricks learned while in office to rake in the major bucks, which could have been in their plans all along.
For sure, there are grassroots-based “lobbyists” who attempt to petition the government for their own non-profit causes, but without the backing of large groups and huge corporations, their voices, from the wilderness, will be lost in the wilderness. How does, say, the anti-hunting movement, with a great heart and soaring spirit, but no money, gain the attention, much less commitment, of congressmen, who were put in power by the massive financial campaigning contributions from the NRA and the well funded hunting lobby in the first place? How dare these congressmen defy the hunting lobby and lose NRA support for their re-election? And how can small mom-and-pops hold the balance against the likes of Walmart?
Indeed, the record shows that incumbents have not only the inside track but an insuperable advantage over up-start challengers in any election, considering the quid pro quo that has been exchanged and accumulated between them and their financial supporters and corporate puppet-masters since the previous election(s). A “new kid on the block” simply cannot raise the kind of funds commanded by the old guard, because the relationship between politician and lobbyist are cultivated over time and many luncheons and meetings, while his idealism simply proves a non-factor against their corrupted rivals’ megabuck advertising and propaganda. It is estimated that the incumbents so often win election-after-election that those who eventually die in office number about the same as those who are eventually voted out of office. And the latter, as mentioned above, often become lobbyists to install replacements in office to perpetuate their anti-social agendas.
And what kind of anti-social work do they do? The pro-tobacco politicians are a prime example, many of whom do not even themselves smoke for fear of contracting cancer. But they have no qualms promoting the coffin-nail, fully aware that tobacco causes almost 300,000 agonizing deaths among Americans every year, and some 80 million medical cases that raise health insurance and medicaid costs sky high. In doing so, they further reap financial support from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.
Let me here offer a portrait of the life of a congressman. The first thing to note is that as soon as he is elected into office, and I use the word “elected” loosely since the office is practically bought, he would have to at once begin planning for and promote his re-election, meaning, to beginning raking in campaign funding. This is not necessarily his personal choice. If he doesn’t do it, the party would make him do it. And if he doesn’t want to spend his time raising funds for himself, he would be made to raise funds for the party.
Congressmen are legislators, but the party frowns on too much legislation work. There exists the so-called Tuesday-Thursday Club, where they would fly in on Monday, legislate Tuesday through Thursday, then fly out on Friday to do campaigning work, i.e., fund-raising.
And fund-raising doesn’t necessarily have to be from his own constituency either. There exists a well establish US map with dark green patches showing where the money is, which often lies outside of his home district. Statistics show that successful fund-raising congressmen often obtain 80+% of their campaign funds from out of district, and over 70% from out of state, with Washington DC being a major common denominator. How does this impact on his performance? Simply, inevitably, he cannot and will fail to fulfill his obligations to his own constituents.
Within a party, prominence is by and large not determined by legislative performance, but by fund-raising prowess. High-performance legislators with no affinity for the dollar-sign are often bypassed, and left to sink into obscurity.
It should be more than crystal clear by now that such a money-based, corporate directed and special-interest centred system, with complete disregard for social justice, environmental sustainability, and responsibility toward future generations, is corrupt to the core, and will crash and burn and drive itself into the ground. So, is there an alternative?
The answer is yes, maybe and no. A foremost candidate is public funding, which was on President Obama’s 2008 campaign platform. Public funding could be in the form of a government allotted and dispensed set-amount for both parties, so that private, corporate and special interest funders are barred from political participation.
In fact, in 2007, a “landmark legislation” was passed 411 to 8 in Congress towards “cleaning up Washington”. Unfortunately, it did not work for long, for soon, evil genius created a loophole big enough for all 14,000 lobbyists to walk through at once. Obama himself abandoned it in the 2008 election in the face of a multi-million-dollar temptation from the private corporate sector.
The general public, either through ignorance or apathy or both, plus the cynicism that “this is my hard-earned tax dollars and I’ll be damned if it goes into campaign funding”, by and large did not support it. Sadly, by June 2009, it was dead.
Finally, in 2010, the U$ supreme court voted 5 to 4 in favor of unlimited special interest campaign funding. Corruption became law.
To return to the beginning, “Congress shall make no law… abridging… the right of the people to… petition the government for a redress of grievances,” still sounds fine and good, but only as a meaningless museum piece.
Anthony Marr, Founder and President
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Global Anti-Hunting Coalition (GAHC)