This week, I'm pleased to bring you an important discussion about what we should be talking about this election season. Corruption. The Huffington Post, the Dylan Ratigan Show, and United Republic will be holding a weeklong series on the costs of our bought government. We'll look into corruption in banking, energy, health care, trade, and education. We'll show you how much corruption is costing you, personally. And we'll trace the money behind it all.
Why are we doing this? Because this is what American elections should be about, not SuperPACs and trivia. During the financial crisis, a US senator asked me, "does the government regulate Wall Street, or does Wall Street, with their billions and billions of dollars, regulate the government through lobbying and campaign financing?" This question is at the root of what ails us as a nation.
Consider lobbying. In 2010, GE earned $14.2 billion. It paid zero in taxes. Instead the company hired former Treasury and IRS officials to lobby and shield its earnings from the tax man. Just one industry, the health insurers, spent over a quarter of a billion dollars lobbying from 2009-2010. According to the center for Responsive Politics, there are 28 lobbyists for every member of Congress. During the health care debate, over 3,300 lobbyists registered to work on the issue.
Consider the revolving door. Liz Fowler, former Wellpoint VP, ended up writing much of the health care bill as a staffer for Senator Max Baucus. And Julie Chon, a former J. P. Morgan finance analyst working in then Connecticut senator Chris Dodd's office wrote the banking regulation that would affect J. P. Morgan.
Consider media manipulation. In 1980, there were about .45 PR professionals and .36 journalists for every 100,000 people. In 2008, there were .25 journalists for every 100,000, and .90 PR pros. And then there are the billions spent on advertising in the TV networks and newspapers from political committees, as well as ads bought by the vampire industries who want to constrain the public debate. There is a reason the one candidate making corruption his signature issue - Buddy Roemer - was not allowed in the Republican debate.
And we haven't even gotten to campaign finance spending, which is of course what turns our elections into auctions. Or how our experts have been corrupted, so that, say, health care "experts" turn out to be getting government or corporate contracts. The point is, at every stage, what was a vibrant people-powered democracy has been bound and gagged, constrained into a weak and passive bought government.
The cost of this government goes far beyond dislike of Congress. What is happening here is that the government is being transformed into a simple vessel to dump risk onto the public. If you think about it, the financial collapse of 2008, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010, the trillion dollars of student debt, our dysfunctional health care system - all of these involve passing massive costs incurred by private entities onto us through a bought government.
So what can we do about it? The answer is to learn about it, organize together, and force our government and corporate entites to operate according to certain principles. These are Visibility, Integrity, Choice, and aligned Interests. We've done this before, as a country. We've seen corruption and dysfunction like this before, much worse even, and we've fixed it in the past. As politicians curry our favor in 2012, as they seek our votes, money, and support, we can let them know that it is our government.