The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

If you’ve read any of the liberal press during the last several years you have no doubt heard about the Koch brothers.  They are the favorite whipping boys for our leftist friends, spawn of the devil and the root cause of all evil in the country and the world.  Well, they have made a lot of money which used to be thought of as the source of all malevolence.

The objection that the left has toward the Koch brothers, other than that they are extremely successful, is that they are involved in the energy business which is causing “global weather change” and even more important than that, they are not ashamed to use their wealth to support candidates for public office or, as the pundits like to phrase it, “buy elections.”  That the left has no objection to other billionaires who subscribe to their own agenda doing the same thing is a matter for a separate conversation.

An excellent book by Peter Schweizer entitled, “Extortion” ( Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013) calls this theory into question – and does so with a great deal of interesting, detailed documentation.  The point that Schweizer makes in his work is that it is those in Congress actually extort these contributions from their constituents – and from those businesses and individuals which might suffer grave repercussions if they do not donate to them.  Schweizer uses the term extortion liberally throughout this extremely interesting book.  Incidentally, this technique is not restricted to members of Congress on only one side of the aisle but is well accepted and utilized by members of both caucuses.

Schweizer refers to those in power on Capitol Hill as the “Permanent Political Class.”  Once elected to office, we all know how difficult it is for a newcomer to unseat an incumbent.  And in the rare instance that happens, the power, influence and opportunity for self-aggrandizement is so strong that only the purest of souls can survive the overwhelming pressure to play the game – and sadly, that candidate isn’t running this year – or almost any other one.

A reasonable person might question why anyone would spend millions of dollars, and in some cases tens of millions, to secure a congressional seat which pays only $174,000 per year (plus some very attractive perks).  The spending on this year’s election is, by some estimates, going to approach $4 Billion.  That’s Billion with a capital “B” and will set an all time record for a mid-term election.

A further question is, what is it that large contributors get in return for their contributions?  Are they simply motivated by a sense of doing good for the country or are they merely trying to buy votes which are positively disposed to support those donors’ interests?  Or, more interestingly, as Schweizer convincingly points out, are they doing this because they are being extorted by those in power to make these contributions – threatened with adverse consequences and unfavorable votes should they withhold their donations.  How do veteran members of Congress perform this extortion?  The answer, while distasteful, is that they do so legally – but then, who wrote the rules?  They did.

Several years ago, two laws known by their acronyms of PIPA and SOFA were proposed.  These were supported by the entertainment industry because the two were purportedly designed to safeguard their intellectual property from theft – in large measure from Chinese pirates who stole new movies and recordings almost as fast as they were released.  Naturally, to secure a favorable vote on these two measures, Hollywood poured vast amounts of money into the PAC’s on which members of the committees that were writing these bills served.  Their lobbyists dropped millions of dollars worth of checks to secure their clients’ interests.

On the other side of the issue were companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook.  They were concerned that the way the law was written there would be a restriction on access to the internet.  They also dropped massive amounts of money in an effort to defeat the two measures.  That money went into exactly the same coffers where the lobbyists for Sony Pictures and their colleagues had left their deposits.  Schweizer refers to this procedure as “ The Double Dip,” and our politicians drool when they have the opportunity to play both sides against each other, collecting their tribute from all with great equanimity.

Another example of ways in which members of Congress can monetize the bills they pass is by passing laws which are so complex that no one understands them.  Two excellent examples are the PPACA (Obamacare) and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  Both exceed two thousand pages in length and contain language that is not only confusing but in some instances is contradictory.  Enter the lobbyists – to the “rescue” of those who are impacted by these bills.

Interestingly, each law that Congress enacts then goes into a second phase in which unelected bureaucrats “interpret and clarify” the language and meaning of the original bill.  Staff members, rather than our elected members of Congress, actually write many of the laws which their bosses then pass.  So who would know better than those who actually crafted the language of the law what that language means?

It should come as no surprise that many of these staffers realize that they can maximize their personal earnings potential by joining a lobbying firm on “K” Street – and those firms, realizing that they can charge enormous fees – sometimes at ten thousand dollars per hour – hire them.  Many times these firms hire the sons, daughters and wives of members of Congress.  Just another perk of having a seat on the Hill.  A seven figure income is not only a nice “perk” – but it isn’t a bad living.

There are additional reasons that our elected legislators raise money which go beyond making sure that they have a sufficient war chest so that they can get re-elected.  One of the most egregious of these is that, should they decide to retire from “public service” they legally can take whatever funds remain in their PAC accounts, pay taxes on them and keep whatever’s left.  But in the meanwhile, it’s perfect legal for a congressman to “lend” money to his PAC and charge “a reasonable rate of interest” on the funds so loaned.  One congresswoman “loaned” herself $250,000 at an interest rate of 18% per year.  That loan has been on the books now for over twenty years, despite the fact that her PAC has always had sufficient funds to repay the loan.  Perhaps she considers that $45,000 annual interest payment as “mad money.”

If this leaves you with a sense of corruption gone wild, then your opinion exactly mirrors mine.  It is perhaps the reason that I tend generally not to vote for any incumbent in elections, whether that person is being elected to a federal, state or local position.  There are exceptions to that rule – but they are few and far between.

“Power corrupts – and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  The Permanent Political Class knows that – and they’re smiling all the way to the bank.

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Comments on: "THE PERMANENT POLITICAL CLASS" (2)

  1. Well I can’t say I’m enamoured by politicians of any stripe, however the Left is a little hypocritical when they accuse the Right of being bought into power. The Left exists as a political force because of the powerful financial support of the Unions. I think Right and Left are fairly well cared for financially. While I don’t have much respect for politicians generally I support democracy as the best model with all its faults. The greedy politicians have to satisfy a voting constituency to stay in power so we get benefits out of that situation. The alternative is a totalitarian system. In that system only those who have come to power by brute force get the goodies and a disenfranchised public gets the crumbs.

    • I agree with your overall assessment of politicians, democracy and the rest. It’s interesting that the single largest PAC is our current Senate Majority leader’s. He’s spent $46.6 Million on this election. Interestingly, there’s a half chapter devoted to Harry Reid, his shenanigans when he was the head of the Nevada Gaming Commission, his kids and some of the deals in which he’s been involved. Corruption and the exercise of extortion at its finest. If you’re interested in the subject of American politics this book is an excellent, quick and entertaining read.

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