In furious counterattack against reform, the banking and health care industries have launched lobbyist blitzkriegs on Capitol Hill that includes generous amounts of “campaign contributions.” They are redundant reminders of our endemic political corruption.
Persistent legislative bribery is reminiscent of an earlier struggle against judicial bribery. For four centuries, from the reigns of Edward III to George III, Britain waged a desultory campaign against rampant bribery of judges, a tradition extending back to ancient Rome. It finally took the Industrial Revolution to end this dismal practice. Britons learned that a complex industrial economy simply can’t function without a dependable legal system, capable of enforcing contracts and guaranteeing trustworthy commercial transactions.
As a consequence, bribe-taking judges have all but disappeared in advanced nations. U.S. judges usually recuse themselves at the slightest hint of a conflict (as Judge Lance Ito did over a minor conflict in the O.J. Simpson murder trial).
Bribetaking congressmen are something else. Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was openly corrupt. Soliciting businessmen’s donations, Lott resorted to overt extortion: “By failing to act today, you could lose a unique chance to be included in current legislative policy debates that will affect your business.”
Lott’s work included documented cases of bribed influence – notably for a billionaire telecommunications tycoon who provided Lott with his New York apartment for a mixer that raised thousands for Lott’s PAC.
Statistical correlations prove that money buys votes. Of congressmen receiving $3,000 or more from companies profiting from the Clinch breeder reactor subsidy, 92 percent voted their donors’ interest. Only 29 percent of congressmen receiving no donations voted that way. Similar, if less spectacular imbalances confirm this general rule. Sen. Joe Lieberman’s one-man obstruction of health care legislation can be fairly attributed to his $1 million-plus in health insurers’ donations.
Much federal legislation is so stupid that only bribery can explain it. Backdated stock options, for example, have enabled CEOs to steal hundreds of millions from stockholders. Options backdated to days with lower stock prices increase CEOs’ gains at stockholder expense. Yet the law approves this theft so long as it is reported on corporate financial statements. Can anyone seriously doubt that this preposterous legislation was simply purchased?
Defenders of legalized bribery parrot a sophistical argument denying the obvious sale of votes. The “defendant” congressman is innocent until proven guilty, and a “guilty” verdict requires proof beyond reasonable doubt.
This analogy to a criminal trial is absurd. The individual is not on trial; the system is. The proper analogy is not a criminal trial; it’s a civil trial. That requires only a preponderance of evidence – 51 percent, not 99.9 percent probability of “guilt.”
Professional organizations enforcing codes of ethics hold members with conflicts of interest guilty until proven innocent. That’s what Congress would do if the phrase “congressional ethics” wasn’t an oxymoron.
A congressman who votes for a donor-backed bill should be judged unethical. Besides the crooked congressmen, the only losers from such a rule would be the socialistic special interests who buy government subsidies and tax favors, at rates around $1,000 per donated dollar. Relieved of this underhanded theft, the U.S. economy would record tremendous gains.
The bank lobbyists’ assault against meaningful regulation is designed to perpetrate the fraudulent derivative transactions that have cost taxpayers well over $1 trillion in bailouts. Unless Congress resists, the U.S. economy will remain in the power of rapacious corporate lobbyists. They are zealous believers in Ambrose Bierce’s definition of politics: the conduct of public affairs for private profit.
C.W. Griffin has lived in Ahwatukee Foothills since 1988. He is a retired consulting engineer and a published author.