Even beyond the availability of [the] many Congressional perks such as paid daycare for legislators’ children and deep discounts for health club memberships (did I fail to mention those before?), perhaps the greatest amount of personal benefits that come from being a member of Congress are those that are derived from the traditional of lobbying. How much can and do Congressmen/women benefit from the system of legalized influence peddling we euphemistically call “lobbying?” Consider recent examples of the business-as-usual way special interests and/or big business gains access to our federal legislators:
*Republican Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. toured the vineyard & castle of Liechtenstein royalty, as well as spent the better part of a day at an Alpine ski resort—all on the dime of a group of European companies.
*Illinois Democrat Danny K. Davis received “the dignitary treatment” when a political donor flew him to Inner Mongolia to lobby for a new medical supplies factory in China.
Almost annually, university and local government lobbyists—who are exempt from the rule which limits gifts by lobbyists to Congressmen to a $50 value maximum—bestow on many Democratic legislators (and their staff) college basketball tournament tickets in a ritual that has come to be called by some critics the “March Madness” loophole (http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/12/07/us/politics/07trips.html)
*A Political Action Committee (PAC) run by Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss hosted a $48,000 combination golf outing-fund-raiser in Palm Beach, Florida. The PAC also routinely “picks up the tab for fancy dinners and parties,” including $6,300 at a Washington steakhouse earlier this year. Money for these events is usually donated by lobbying and special interests groups (PACs are the chief means by which Congressmen are able to skirt rules outlining the limits by which legislators are ostensibly mandated to adhere to in order to give the public the impression of self-governing)
In any given recent year, more than 2.5 billion (that’s “billion” with a “b”) dollars have been spent on direct lobbying by various interest special groups. Such benefits, despite rules adopted in 2007 meant to limit corporate influence in Congress, routinely bend and/or breaks these rules and exploits loopholes…to the wink-and-nods of these elected officials. Needless to say, businesses and other interest groups are routinely opposed to more substantive proposal changes.
In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with a citizen’s right to petition the legislature of the government (at any level)—in fact, it’s a Constitutional guarantee. The problem arises when Big Business, private organizations, and special interests groups—most of which have resources far and away more abundant than the average American—interject their influence into the legislative process to pervert the process democracy, especially in light of the observation that most of these influential entities tend to promote interests that are contrary to the general electorate. Surely, it shouldn’t take Einsteinian-level intellect for our biggest (or maybe our not-so-biggest) brains to devise a way to safeguard the Constitutional guarantee of access to our highest-elected law-makers by both the people (that’s you and I) and business. In a perfect (or even better) world, the voices of the more enlightened among Congressmen would become loud enough to rise above the din of gift-chatter to prick the consciouses—assuming they have them—of every member and guilt them into adopting the interests of the people who elect them to office as a priority, and not the monied interests who pervert the political process. The lack of such a necessary solution can only be attributed to a lack of will among Congress and business both.
As for the spirit of regal entitlement which seems to have possessed members of the House and the Senate, one can only guess at what it would take to exorcise this particular demon from the Hill. Outside of a divine intervention, the only possible solution is for Americans to grow the testicular fortitude to collectively act on the sentiment we have heard uttered time and again during moments of outrage at our legislators’ incompetence and corruption: “Throw the bums out!”
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(Better late than never CBS! From last night's CBS Evening News broadcast)