If you read the headlines these days, you are led to believe that the most serious consequences of our corrupt political system are the nefarious schemes of individuals like Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay. And while the scandals surrounding these guys are all outrageous, the narrow focus on them masks the much more severe consequences of corruption that no one in the media/political Establishment really wants to talk about - the consequences that are at the heart of my upcoming book Hostile Takeover due out in April/May (and, for those interested, available for pre-order today at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell's Bookstore, among others). Beyond the brazen vote-buying/bribery that our money-drenched political process periodically is afflicted with is the far more systematic way America's entire political debate is artificially limited to ensure an outcome favorable to Big Money interests.
No matter where you look in politics you can see this phenomenon, right up in your face. We can see it in the two parties' competing lobbying/ethics "reform" packages - both of which do not attack the real problem of elections being financed by corporate cash. That's by design - because to attack the real problem with public financing of elections would be to actually give the public - and not Corporate America - control over the political process.
We see the same thing on many major economic issues like bankruptcy, "free" trade, energy policy, health care and more. These are the bread-and-butter economic issues where the public consistently tells pollsters it wants radically different policies than comes from their government. Yet, politicians and the media dishonestly portray only a narrow set of policies in these areas as "mainstream," "centrist," or "politically possible" making sure the overall debate and realm of possible outcomes is narrowed to the point where votes don't really have to be bought, because whatever final result is already guaranteed to further enrich the powers that be.
This debate narrowing is really what lobbyists are masters of. They provide the talking points, justifications, background research and propaganda to both sides of a debate to make sure that politically taboo subjects (aka. the concerns of ordinary Americans) aren't really ever seriously considered in a debate over an issue. Lawmakers are happy to regurgitate the nonsense because they know that when they do, they will be rewarded like little puppies with a treat - namely, a campaign contribution.
But where does the lobbyists' information ammunition actually come from? Where do they actually get that propaganda to give to the lawmaker to make sure the debate is narrowed? A story in Businessweek today provides a glimpse of the answer. Many "pundits who present themselves as independent voices sometimes turn out to be quietly financed by powerful interests," the magazine reports. "Money flows from an industry or a lobbyist rather than a branch of government. The tradecraft for fixing media opinions varies and sometimes involves public relations firms, Washington front groups, or other intermediaries."
In other words, the opinion makers - the pundits/commentators who play one of the key role in creating the boundaries of the political debate - are often bought off. Many of these people, not surprisingly, come out of the bigger world of corporate-funded think tanks that dominate Washington, D.C. These are the propaganda machines who the media and politicians loyally rely on for background research and overall debate framing, rarely - if ever - thinking about or reporting on who actually is funding the institutions in the first place.
So, for instance, if you read the newspapers or listen to a congressional hearing, you might think that organizations like the Heritage Foundation or the Cato Institute are just naturally occurring organizations sprouting up from the a supposed overall extreme conservative economic slant of the American public. These institutions - which D.C. is teeming with - are cited as official-esque sources, described only in ideological terms as "conservative." They are almost never labeled according to which industries fund them, just as the politicians who spew corporate PR are almost never identified in the media as having taken huge sums of cash from the industry being shilled for. It is as if naming the funders would be to offer the public too much truth about who owns their political debate - a major Establishment taboo.
But even worse than not identifying the backers of these corporate-funded entities is how those politicians/reporters/pundits who cite them - and thus allow them to distort the political debate - don't themselves even consider/care that the organizations are corporate appendages, artificially narrowing the debate not out of some ideological motive, but from a very obvious desire to make sure that economic debates always end with Big Money interests making off like bandits.
To be sure, the right claims that progressive institutions like labor unions and environmental groups spend resources on lobbying and public policy advocacy. But the statistics make very clear that the amount or resources progressive groups are able to muster is like a grain of sand on a giant beach compared to what Big Money corporate interests spend distorting the political debate.
My book Hostile Takeover, due out in Spring, looks at the major overarching economic issues that ordinary citizens face on a daily basis and shows how this corruption narrows the overall debate; transforms sheer lies into assumed facts; and creates the rationale for public policies designed to do one thing and one thing only: rip off ordinary citizens. That is the truth of our corrupt political system right there under our noses - a truth that I have spent the last year documenting in the pages of my upcoming book, but which is hard to see because almost every message the public receives from the political/media Establishment is carefully crafted to distract us from this. The book is designed to be a citizens' guide to seeing through this haze of dishonesty because the more we become aware of the fraud being perpetrated on us, the closer we come to being able to take back our government once and for all.