Governance and Policy

They (liberals) don’t understand their own moral system or the other guy’s, they don’t know what’s at stake, they don’t know about framing, they don’t know about metaphors, they don’t understand the extent to which emotion is rational, they don’t understand how vital emotion is, they try to hide their emotion. They do everything wrong because they’re miseducated. And they’re proud of that miseducation. Oxford philosophy reigns supreme, right? Oxford philosophy is killing the world. 

- George Lakoff

The United States is often upheld as the example of a working democracy but in reality it is the best example of a dysfunctional democracy. The lobbyist have effectively created the plutocracy of the Unites States of America. Many of the companies that lobby do so because there is already a public perception (and a reasonably accurate one) that their products are harmful to society. Lobbyist must tell a story, backed up by lots of money of why harmful goods and services are actually good for the American public.

Robert Thurman of Columbia University draws attention to the treasonous behavior of congress persons who have made pledges to Grover Norquist that contradict their pledges made to the United States as congress persons and are therefore grounds for impeachment based upon the constitution of the United States

Bill Moyer talks about the darker side of Grover Norquist, the leader of Americans for Tax Reform who serve the interest of the plutocracy

MSNBC analysis of Grover Norquist and the Fiscal Cliff of Jan 2013 and why Democrats should have gone over it (hint: it would hurt unnecessary Defense spending)

The public knows what is good for us but it seems as if we can never convince governments to do what’s right. The constant uphill battle to win even the smallest gains is no figment of the imagination  – it’s actually how the system works.  The system was designed for the people BUT somewhere along the journey towards freedom, democracy was CO-OPTED by an evolving minority of power holders. The current system only works effortlessly for this extremely small minority and as long as it is not fixed, policies will continue in this destructive direction.

Lawrence Lessig, is a noted writer, speaker and critic of the failings of the current democratic system of election in the United States and he takes you through the story of how we arrived here, how to fix the problem and how to return it to its original purpose – to serve the interests of the people. Although his story is specifically about the United States, it applies to any government where lobbying by a small minority of power holders works against the best interest of the people – which is most of the world.

This same method of lobbying promoted aggressively by the largest trans national companies is like a virus and has spread itself around the world to influence all governments. The sooner people begin to gain insight into its mechanics, the sooner the planet can eradicate this destructive meme and return governance for the people.

Lawrence Lessig’s Narrative of the Broken US Democratic System…and how to fix it


  1. The story begins with a place called the United States. This country has two elections which are inter-related in a very interesting way.
  2. Now the supreme court in Citizen’s United say that the people have the ultimate influence over elected official. Sounds good! but here’s the “but”….
  3. This first election is known as the congressional election, but we will call it by a more descriptive name –  it’s the “Money” election. The second is the presidential election, the one we all know. We will call it the “General” election.
  4. What is the relationship between these two elections? Well, you have to be successful at the first election before you can qualify for the second. So the pool of presidential nonimees comes out of the first election process but the more-than-disturbing thing is that the ordinary voter does not get to decide the outcomes of the first election – the people who donate the most money to them do!
  1. Congresswoman Leslie Byrne of Virginia was given the advice to “always lean to the green – and it was given by a colleague who was NOT an environmentalist!
  2. The very existence of members of congress depends critically on these funders – who go by another name – special interests. Members of congress are thus forced to spend an incredible 30 to 70% of their time knocking on the doors of the very small fraction of the 0.05% of the rich funders to raise money so that they can get their party re-elected. What does this do to them? What does this do to their sworn duty to “serve the people”?
  3. They become not unlike the X-files “shape shifters”, who can change their support of an issue at the drop of a dime  (perhaps more than a dime). They do not stick to any principles, except the principle of who will give me the most money if I support their cause. Hence, they do not serve the people, they serve the funders.
  4. You might say that we have a built-in conflict of interest in the system because though they are suppose to answer to the public, their very survival is dependent on the funders – who, 9 out of 10 times are simply working for their own self interest, not the peoples. The funders are often Trans-national companies that want market advantages for their products – which often means laxer regulation to control them….so they can pollute more, put markets out in the market before sufficient safety and health tests have been done, participate in risky loans, etc… Or they may be ideologically-based organizations that are opposed to gay marriage or abortion. Yes, there’s a democracy, and you can choose between all these nominees for president but the field of candidates ALL represent one special interest or another. It’s a false choice and it’s not choosing anyone who represents the people. Rather, it is choosing the lesser of many evils. Our choice is not between candidates who will best serve the people, but between who will do the least harm to the people – not much of a choice!

It’s a wake up call to see who contributes how much money to our elected officials. In 2010:

  1. 0.26 % of the general public gave $200 or more to elected officials
  2. 0.05 % of the general public gave the maximum amount
  3. 0.01% were able to give $10,000 or more
  4. And the most telling figure of all – in 2012, only 0.00042% of the population, 132 PEOPLE, gave 60% of the funding to the SuperPACs!
  1. The creator’s of the constitution created a republic, a representative democracy – a government that would have a branch that would be dependent on the people alone.
  2. The problem is that congress has morphed into something which is no longer dependent on the people alone, but answer mostly to funders who are self-serving special interest groups who don’t really care about the general public of the United States of America
  3. And as long as the funders are NOT representative of the people, it is a blatant, normalized, written-into-law corruption –  they will legally have the right to screw the people over
  4. By the way, this problem is bipartisan, it blocks both the left and the right, democrats and conservatives. It blocks issues important to the left – climate change, health reform, food safety, gay marriage as well as issues from the right – it blocks smaller government because it is far more profitable for lobbyists to keep a big bureaucracy so that they can keep charging exorbitant rates to their clients to get access to elected officials.
  1.  The shifting 0.05 % that congress is dependent on for their existence is mostly looking after their own self interest. It is a real problem because any democracy where the “elected”  members of congress are dependent on such a small fraction of us,
  2. allows a TINY portion of the population
  3. a TINY, TINY portion of it
  4. to block any kind of proposed and much-needed reform that people are clamoring for. In other words, the 0.05% control the 99.95%! This is a SHAM democracy!
  1. There is an economy at work here, an economy of influence where the lobbyist play the central role. Lawrence Lessig refers to these congress members legally corrupted by lobbyist the “Lesters”, a term he developed for his book Lesterland – The Corruption of Congress and How to End it
  2. This false economy THRIVES on polarization
  3. This false economy THRIVES on dysfunctionality
  4. This false economy gets strength from our weakness; the worse it is for us, the better it is for them. Henry David Thoreau said that “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one striking at the root”. This is the root of the dysfunction democratic system of governance in the Unite States, and by proxy, the rest of the world. The US is a leading country in the world and what happens in the US affects every country on the planet. If the US cleans up its problems at home, it is bound to have a profound effect on the rest of the world as well. How many enemies has the US created by elected representatives acting out of decisions for special interests instead of for the people of the United States?
Even schoolchildren know that the most basic principle of democratic governance is that it serves the people. Those in elected positions have the responsibility of representing the people. Unfortunately, due to the influence of lobbyists, elected officials actual make policies based upon a very small percentage of the population – those with money.

There are few existing governments, if any where the majority of the people’s opinion influences policy. Because of this inability to meet their most basic obligation, modern democratic governments can be said to no longer work. And if no democracy existent today meets their most basic obligation, then what distinction is there between democracies and other forms of governance? Authoritarian regimes make little efforts to hide their use of force, while pretentious democratic ones do. Yet, as Wikileaks has shown, the secrecy may cloak even higher level of egregious crime. Trans-national corporations and private banks work in collusion with governments. They act through highly paid lobbyist, usually ex-government officials who once held high positions in government. The lobbyist have the money funneled to them by the corporate overlords and in the back rooms of government, they dictate how policy is set, not the people.

Table 1: US lobbyist spending, 1998 – 2012 (Source: Open Secrets, The Centre for Responsive Politics)

Through lobbyists, government becomes an instrument for big business, not for the people. Hence the policies that are created, regardless of the party in power, serve big business, not the people. Unfortunately, what is big-business friendly is usually people unfriendly. This is because big business rules the roost; they are the 1% while the people are the 99. Because of the link of the lobbyist, money is what actually votes for policies, not people. Policies are therefore created to benefit the 1%, not the 99.  This explains the unending litany of corruption constantly exposed by the media. Even the media belongs to the 1% but even there, there are still ethical people who support the people.

Table 2: US lobbyist Lobbying Clients (Source: Open Secrets, The Centre for Responsive Politics)

Lobbying Client Total
US Chamber of Commerce $966,955,680
General Electric $284,040,000
American Medical Assn $281,282,500
American Hospital Assn $284,040,000
Pharmaceutical Rsrch & Mfrs of America $232,583,920
AARP $222,822,064
National Assn of Realtors $219,817,423
Blue Cross/Blue Shield $202,740,052
Northrop Grumman $189,485,253
Exxon Mobil $182,392,742
Edison Electric Institute $172,936,789
Verizon Communications $172,427,933
Boeing Co $171,972,310
Business Roundtable $171,400,000
Lockheed Martin $166,366,488
AT&T Inc $152,419,336
Southern Co $146,280,694
Altria Group $144,338,200
National Cable & Telecommunications Assn $142,380,000
General Motors $134,534,170

Table 3: US top lobbying firms (Source: Open Secrets, The Centre for Responsive Politics)

Lobbying Firm Total
Patton Boggs LLP $485,972,000
Akin, Gump et al $392,075,000
Cassidy & Assoc $360,862,100
Van Scoyoc Assoc $308,328,000
Williams & Jensen $222,134,000
Ernst & Young $188,636,737
Holland & Knight $175,674,544
Quinn Gillespie & Assoc $160,918,500
Hogan & Hartson $154,633,907
Brownstein, Hyatt et al $153,955,000
Podesta Group $136,940,000
Barbour, Griffith & Rogers $136,820,000
Greenberg Traurig LLP $135,248,249
Ogilvy Government Relations $129,650,000
Alcalde & Fay $127,750,660
Carmen Group $121,495,000
Dutko Worldwide $119,836,766
PMA Group $115,930,578
Ferguson Group $112,777,291
Wexler & Walker Public Policy Assoc $109,165,000

A Look at some Effects of  some Top Company Lobbies

Looking at the list of top donors, is the lobbying of Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin really in the public’s interest? Don’t these guys only build weapons of war? What about Exxon Mobil?  Wouldn’t they be against policies like a carbon tax or eliminating subsidies to the fossil fuel industry? Wouldn’t the pharmaceutical industry lobby be against low cost medicine that people can afford? Wouldn’t they be against any form of treatment that actually works because it may be harmful to sales of less effective drugs that they may have spent a lot of R+D money on? Do the words “conflict of interest” begin to take on meaning here?

 General Electric

GE is the United States largest company. How much tax do they pay? You would expect a lot, since they are raking in the money. GE is one of the world’s most successful tax dodgers. In 2011, not only did they not pay tax, incredibly, they actually received a tax benefit of $3.2 billion. From this New York time report from March 24, 2011, “ Its (GE’s) extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”

Much more lobbying here

Exxon Mobil

The bills Exxon Mobil lobby for and against is are too many to publish here but you can access them at Open Secret, Center for Responsive Politics

Exxon Mobil is, of course a major sponsor of any bills for fracking and against AGW – Anthropomorphic Global Warming.  Again, there is too much detail to list so you can check it out here at Sourcewatch

Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, 

Defense industry companies are doing a lot of lobbying as $1 trillion dollars worth of defense budget cuts loom. They are all trying to hang onto their programs as reported by the Washington Post. Hundreds of millions sound like a lot of money to spend on lobbying for defense contractors – until you see how much money that creates.

Edison Electric Institute

The New York Times reported on December 14, 2007 that EEI led the lobbying opposition to a provision in a federal energy bill that would have required utilities nationwide to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. EEI implemented an extensive lobbying campaign against the provision, warning Republican Senators and the White House that the bill would cause sharp increases in electric rates. The provision was eventually stripped out of the bill, and a weaker version without renewable energy requirements passed the Senate on Thursday, December 13, 2007 by a margin of 86-8.

Monsanto

Monsanto has endless mountains of work for its crew of lobbyist Michael Dykes, Katherine Emerson, Jeremy Stump, Scott Kuschmider, James Travis, Michael Parrish and Michael Holland  as well as lobbying firms:

  • Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the nation’s top lobbying firm. It has a contact valued at $50,000 per quarter with Monsanto for the services of registered lobbyist Brian Pomper, a foreign trade expert.
  • The Washington Tax Group LLC, with registered lobbyists Gregory Nickerson and Jan Fowler, is ready to help with the “simplified research and development tax credit” and issues related to international corporate tax reform.
  •   Crawford Quilty & Mauro Law Firm (based in Des Moines) brings registered lobbyists Jerry Crawford and Nick Mauro in to help with ag consolidation and competition, and to tend to issues involving Roundup Ready sugar beets and alfalfa.
  •  American Continental Group, with registered lobbyists Manus Cooney, Trista Roehl,and Karen Stone,  who help with the heavy lifting on the Hill over the America Invents Act implementation and Biotech crop competition.
  •  The Russell Group’s Randall Russell and Tyson Redpath are also up for a fight on biotech acceptance, and issues related to agriculture competition and appropriations.

 

NRA Gun Lobby

The NRA and Gun lobby has  actively sabotages any attempt to do scientific research on gun violence – not very open, is it?  It uses the same playbook as the Tobacco industry did in misleading the public to protect their market as discussed in detail in this Feb 2013 USA Today article

  1. We all know this problem. It’s been very well discussed.
  2. Yet, we ignore it. It’s such a huge problem – the problem which prevents all other problems from being solved – all the big issues of the day. So why do we ignore it?
  3. We think it’s IMPOSSIBLE to solve. So instead, we work on more manageable problems….like eradicating polio, mapping every street on the planet or creating a nuclear fusion reactor in our garage.
  4. Well, we can’t ignore the problem any longer…because we cannot move on ANY of the important problems facing us because of this ONE problem. We must fix this problem first before any other problem can be solved.
  1.  So how do we do it? How easy is it to change this? Well actually, the analytics are quite simple. If the probem is members spending an extraordinary amount of time fundraising from a tiny slice of America, then have them spend far less time fundraising from a much broader slice of America – spread out the funder influence to restore the original idea of depending on the people alone.
  2. We don’t need a constitutional amendment to do this or changing the first amendment – we just need to establish a single statute.
  3. A statute that supprots citizen-funded campaigns
  4. and small dollar funded elections
 
  1. So where do all these lobbyist come from? ….Not surprisingly, many come from congress itself – and for good reason. The grass is greener on the other side.
  2. Members, staffers and bureaucrats have an increasingly common business model – life after government as a lobbyist. 50% of the senate and 42% of the house between 1998 and 2004 have left to become lobbyist.
  3. And why not? If you can increase your salary by 1,452% wouldn’t you do it!
  4. Given that this lobbying undermines democracy, we must ask: Is it possible to change this?  It is. Racism, Gay Rights, Equal Rights – these were and are far more difficult problems.

Proof that Small Dollar Funded Elections Work

In 2011, Lawrence Lessig wrote in Bloomberg on this very issue: To Rescue Politics, Adopt Small-Funds Reform

More than a century ago, political scientist Robert Brooks observed, “Under a system of small contributions from a large number of people, it would matter little even if some of the contributors were not wholly disinterested.” Three states have experimented with reforms that come very close to this idea: Arizona, Maine and Connecticut.

All these states allowed the candidates for the state legislature as well as some statewide offices fund their campaigns through small-dollar contributions only.

The basic structure is:

  1. Candidates qualify by raising many small contributions
  2. Qualified candidates can receive additional state funding

Such elections have had important success and it forces candidates to spend more time talking to voters, rather than funders and to represent a broader range of citizens than the candidates who run with private money alone.

Lessig feels that were the U.S. to adopt such a way to fund congressional elections, it would be an enormous improvement over the current system.

Critics have raised two problems with this system:

  1. bureaucrats are allowed to choose the amount of money available to candidates within an election
  2. some people are bothere that their money being used to fund political speech that they oppose

To solve these problems, Lessig proposes a small, dollar-funded election that can become known as the Grant and Franklin Project.

Assumptions

  • Every voter in the U.S. produces at least $50 in revenue to the U.S. Treasury
  • 90 % of adult Americans pay taxes to the federal government
  • Add the taxes on gasoline, tobacco and airplane tickets, and the remaining 10 percent of voters are almost certainly swept in

Proposed Grant and Franklin Project

  1. Convert the initial $50 into a voucher and call it a Democracy Voucher
  2. All voters are free to allocate their vouchers as they wish
  3. Some may target $50 to a single candidate; others may direct $25 each to two candidates
  4. The only requirement is that the candidate receiving the voucher must opt into the system
  5. If a Democracy Voucher is not allocated, then it goes to the political party to which the voter is registered
  6. If the voter is not registered to a party, then it goes to supplement funding for the infrastructure of democracy: voting systems, voter education and the Grant and Franklin Project
  7. Any viable candidate for Congress could receive these voucher contributions if he or she agrees to one important condition: that the only money that candidate accepted to fund his or her campaign would be Democracy Vouchers and contributions from individuals of up to $100 per citizen
  8. That means no money from political action committees and no direct contributions from political parties
  9. These campaigns would be limited to Democracy Vouchers plus, at most, $100  per citizen

Essential Features of the Grant and Franklin Project

  • It  is voluntary – candidates opt into the system, just as presidential candidates have (or have not) opted into the existing system to fund presidential campaigns.
  • Your money only supports who you believe in – you get to allocate the first $50 you send to the federal Treasury to whomever you wish. I get to allocate mine.
  • Each citizen can have more say for a candidate – if you give a candidate an additional $100, it shows your greater commitment to that candidate.
  • Raise equal or more funds than current system –  this approach would inject an enormous amount of money into political campaigns. In 2010, congressional election spending totaled $1.8 billion. Contributions to the two major political parties totaled $2.8 billion. If every registered voter participated in this system, it would produce at least $6 billion in campaign funds per election cycle ($3 billion a year). Some portion of that would flow to candidates. The balance would flow to political parties. Within a reasonable range, we can be confident the new system would have a shot at being competitive with the existing one.

Most Important Feature

This system would remove congresses dependence on the funder’s bias and force each congressman and congresswoman to pay attention to the voters needs. If enough representatives were elected under this system, then whenever Congress did something stupid, it would be because there were more Democrats than Republicans, or Republicans than Democrats. It would not be because of the money.

Can the US afford $6 billion per election?  Yes, and there are at least two reasons why:

Eliminate $90 billion dollars of lobby-linked subsidies and regulatory protection – the Cato Institute  estimated that the federal government spends more than $90 billion a year on corporate welfare. These are, in effect subsidies and regulatory protections that lawmakers confer on certain businesses and industries directly due to the influence of lobbyists. They are IOU’s to those funders who put the lawmakers in power. If you eliminate an extremely conservative 5 percent of that payback, by eliminating the pressures to pay major donors anything, because elections are no longer funded by large, private contributions, that amounts to $9 billion per election cycle — more than the $6 billion needed.

$3 billion a year is a measly amount to pay for authentic democracy – To put it in perspective Lessing asks us to think about how much we spend to support democracy all around the world. The United States has waged one of the longest wars in American history “to make democracy possible” in Iraq. The total cost of the war at this point is more than $750 billion. And then there’s the cost of 4,500 American lives and countless Iraqi lives. Lessing argues that if  the US is willing to spend $750 billion to make democracy in Iraq possible, shouldn’t the US be willing to spend one- 25th of that to make democracy in America work?

In closing, Lessing writes:

“There are details galore to work out. There are comparisons to make and lessons to learn. But for now my aim is to talk strategy. If you believe that our Congress is corrupted; if you believe that corruption can be solved only by removing its source, if you believe special-interest funded elections are that source, then some version of small-dollar funded elections is the core to a strategy that could restore this republic. This republic, which we have now lost.”

(Source: Bloomberg)

The Remarkable Impact of Small Dollar Funded Elections in Connecticut 

There’s always been the idea that legislatures will never give up special-interest money,  Connecticut’s experience kind of shows the lie in that suggestion.

- Adam Skaggs, Senior Counsel, Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Connecticut is the poster child of a state whose bold move of kicking out lobbyists resulted in remarkable achievements that no other states have matched. In 2011, the Connecticut state government achieved an enviable list of wins:

  • while other states struggled to balance their budgets, Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly closed a deficit of historic proportions one month early, agreeing on a mix of tax hikes and union concessions
  • Connecticut passed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants,
  • a transgender-rights bill, a major genetic research initiative,
  • a bipartisan job-growth package,
  • the nation’s first paid sick-leave mandate
The state has made enormous progress, transforming from ‘Corrupticut,’ an example of rampant wrongdoing after years of scandal, into a model for campaign financing and the future of democracy

- Beth Rotman, former Director, Connecticut’s Clean Election Program

 In 2005, the state government was reeling from a corruption scandal that resulted in a demand to impeach then  John G. Rowland. Rowland was taking thousands of dollars in free gifts ranging from flights and vacations to improvements to a lakeside cottage—from many state contractors who had contributed to his campaigns. Rowland resigned amidst the controversy and later pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge stemming from a December 2004 incident for accepting $107,000 in gifts and vacations from people doing business with the state. Rowland subsequently served time in federal prison.  Connecticut legislators reacted strongly to the corruption by:

  • stopping the flow of millions of special-interest dollars,
  • banning lobbyist contributions,
  • instituting a public-financing system that record-setting numbers of candidates have since embraced

Two examples serve to illustrate the remarkable changes that have taken place after banning lobbying in the state:

  1. The Nickel Deposit –For years, lobbyists for beer and soda pop manufacturers successfully arranged their clients to collect the 5 cent deposit for bottles and cans that were never returned to them. All these nickels add up – to the tune of $24 million a year. Environmentalists had long tried to argue that the money should be used for conservation. A proposal to do that was struck down 3 months before the Nov 2008 elections. But less than three months later, after the swearing-in of Connecticut’s first legislature elected mostly with public funding, lawmakers grabbed those unclaimed nickels. 
  2. The Sick Leave Mandate – For years, Connecticut’s small Working Families Party unsuccessfully pressed for employers to provide workers with paid sick leave. A grassroots blitz of 2,000 calls, letters, and e-mails from constituents convinced initially skeptical state senator Edward Meyer of the merits of such a bill and it narrowly passed in June 2011. With campaign finance reform, organizations that are well organized at the grassroots level can now actually have real impact on policy.  Active constituent people pressure is beginning to outweigh the pressure of lobbyists.

 

The Tom Foley Crisis

Connecticut’s new system faced an acid test in 2010. Dannel Malloy, the Democratic candidate for governor, had survived a primary contest with one Greenwich millionaire only to face off  in the general election against another, Republican Tom Foley. Foley loaned his campaign more than $10 million. Malloy, already armed with a $3 million public grant for the general election, qualified under state law for an additional $3 million. But in July 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals’ Second Circuit ruled that the state could not give supplemental public grants triggered by a privately financed opponent’s spending. (One year later, the U.S. Supreme Court would issue a similar ruling in an Arizona case.)

Despite bitter Republican opposition, including a veto by Governor Rell, the Democratic-controlled legislature responded by changing the law, hence allowing Malloy to access an additional 3 million. Armed with his $6 million, Malloy barely eked out the narrowest of wins over Foley – 0.6 percent or just over 6,400 votes.

While Foley and other republicans cried foul, reform advocates say the change was the only way to preserve the legislature’s original  intent . “It was about using public finance to provide a basic level of fairness,” says Don Williams, the Senate’s president pro tempore. “Otherwise, multimillionaires can simply crush their opponents.”

(Source: The American Prospect)

Reformist Organizations

Here are some of the organizations promoting election reform that will remove the lobbyist from the current equation destroying the Unite States ability to represent its people:


(Source: Lawrence Lessig’s TED Talk)