Road to reelection paved by money from special interests

Marty  Solomon, a  retired University of Kentucky professor, can be reached at mbsolomon@aol.com.
Marty Solomon, a retired University of Kentucky professor, can be reached at mbsolomon@aol.com.

For too long now, we have allowed lobbyists and special interests in America to control our politicians, buy their votes and even write the legislation that becomes laws.

Most politicians are probably honest and caring, devoted to "the people" when first elected, but soon they realize that becoming beholden to the rich and powerful, PACs and lobbyists is the road to re-election, the Holy Grail of politics, or to revolving-door riches in the private sector.

It has been said that we have socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor. Here is a tiny glimpse into the vast cancer of incumbency:

■ Former congressman Billy Tauzin of Louisiana pushed through the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill, a bonanza for the big pharmaceutical lobby. Incredibly, his legislation forbids the government from negotiating better drug prices for Medicare and prevents importing less expensive drugs from reputable Canadian suppliers. After his legislation passed, Tauzin left Congress to became an $11.6 million-a-year lobbyist for the drug industry.

■ In 2003, the sugar industry forced our government to threaten to withhold $400 million of World Health Organization funding unless the WHO scrapped proposed critical guidelines on sugar, which it did. The sugar industry is so powerful that the minimum daily requirements for sugar are not printed on foods and drinks.

■ Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah has been the guardian angel of the nutritional supplement industry and has prevented any government oversight, even though people die from muscle building products annually.

■ The government proposed a new food-safety regulations when more than 700 people became sick from E. coli, but meat-industry lobbyists were able to delay implementation of the new regulations by insisting on a two-year additional study.

■ If you want a return on your investment of more than 1,000 percent, don't invest in stocks or bonds. Invest in campaign contributions and lobbyists. The energy industry invests $90 million a year in lobbying.

■ In 1999, Wall Street lobbyists secured President Bill Clinton's support when he signed the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act, which had previously prevented banks from gambling with depositors' money and probably would have prevented the financial collapse of 2008 had it still been in effect. Wall Street money has already forced Hillary Clinton to oppose reinstating Glass-Steagall.

■ The ultimate in congressional cowardice is the disregard for human life by the nothing-else-matters fear of being defeated in the next election. The vast majority of Americans support universal background checks to help keep firearms from potentially dangerous people, yet Congress has ignored the public. Comprehensive background checks cannot solve gun violence, but they might save lives of thousands of innocent people.

The National Rifle Association transfixes Congress like deer in the headlights, saying "no, no, a thousand times no" to the simplest commonsense safeguards. The subservient flunkies dutifully obey.

Since it seems clear that the lobbyists control Congress and write laws, what to do?

Term limits and campaign finance laws would help, but the fox isn't about to give up his appetite for chicken. We could defeat any and all incumbents. But that might be like throwing out the baby with the sewage.

Perhaps a more surgical approach would be to learn which special interests control candidates and vote against those who appear unduly influenced. Several databases can help.

At Congress.org, you can sign up for up-to-the-minute voting records of your senators and representative to be automatically emailed to you. Voting records of all elected officials are found at Votersmart.org. Maplight.org contains each legislator's top campaign contributors and the amounts.

With these, you might be able to discover elected officials who have been bought and sold, and help vote them out of office.