The Top Ten (that profit from war… and why state and local budgets are in depression)

Military contractors lobby Congress and the Pentagon for contracts, and once they win the contracts they use some of that money to lobby Congress and the Pentagon for contracts, and once they win the contracts they use some of that money to lobby Congress and the Pentagon for contracts, and once they…

The Top Ten.

Haven’t we been warned that this might happen?

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AN OPEN LETTER TO MAINE’S SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES

Dear Senators Collins and Snowe and Representatives Michaud and Pingree,

I am writing you to express my concern that big money contributions from special interests such as corporations, political action committees, single-issue groups, lobbyists, lawyers, and unions are destroying our democracy. Our political system no longer relies on the will of “the People Alone,” as the Founding Fathers intended, but on the funders of campaigns. 1% of Americans finance almost 99% of the cost of political campaigns in America, so it’s no surprise that our government responds most to their needs.

You participate in a political system that is deeply corrupt. Your job is to legislate primarily on behalf of Mainers. The job of special interests is to get you to legislate on their behalf. This is a conflict of interest. When a Mainer contributes $25 to you, she wants to elect you to represent her in Congress. When a lobbyist or corporation contributes $50,000 to you, it wants to make sure you win so it can gain special access unavailable to the rest of us. Small contributions from Mainers just get lost in a sea of money.

How much money are we talking about? I researched campaign contribution data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, available on Open Secrets.org. Here are the top 4 out of 13 contributor categories and the amounts you have received over your careers.

For you, Senator Snowe:

Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate industries          $2,452,000.

Health related industries                                            $1,117,000.

Ideological/Single Issue groups                         $1,075,000.

Lawyers and Lobbyists                                               $846,000.

Your top contributor, at $300,000, was MBNA, Maryland-based credit card services company.

 

For you, Senator Collins:

Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate Industries             $2,436,000.

Ideological/Single Issue groups                         $1,342,000.

Health related industries                                            $1,199,000.

Lawyers and Lobbyists                                            $1,120,000.

Your top contributor, at $154,000 was also MBNA.

 

For you, Rep. Michaud:

Labor Unions                                                              $1,441,000.

Ideological/Single Issue Groups                                    $502,000.

Finance, Insurance and Real Estate Industries              $410,000.

Lawyers and Lobbyists                                                  $379,000.

Your top contributor, at $61,000 is the National Association of Credit Unions.

 

For you, Rep. Pingree:

Ideological/Single Issue Groups                                    $942,000.

Finance, Insurance and Real Estate industries               $640,000.

Lawyers and Lobbyists                                                  $521,000.

Labor Unions                                                                 $441,000.

Your top contributor, at $145,000 is Paloma Partners, an investment holding company.

None of the top contributors for any of you is headquartered in Maine. In fact, two-thirds of what you raised in your last elections came from out of state (it’s about two-fifths for Congressman Michaud). Washington DC, California, Massachusetts and New York City (Wall St) funneled the most money into Maine. A recent New York Times headline, “Democrats and Republicans Scramble for Wall St. Dollars” sums up how Wall St. money has equally captured both parties. Do you actually believe most Mainers would approve of these sources of your campaign money?

Our common sense tells us these lobbyists, corporations and other special interests intend to influence you. Our gut warns us that corporations don’t hand out free money to politicians – strings are bound to be attached. Because you keep secret the arrangements you and your funders make, it’s reasonable to conclude that their funding does come with strings or “understandings.” How can we trust the assertions you make that special interest funding does not influence you? When you depend on large sums of special interest money in order to win elections, you drive a wedge of corporate cash between yourselves and ordinary Mainers.

At the heart of the political dishonesty we see across the country today is the claim made by nearly all politicians that special interest funding influences neither their views nor their votes. This is the Big Lie used to justify and protect a system of politics run by money.

Modern history shows that once a member of Congress wins several terms in Maine, he becomes a Senator or Representative for life. The more terms you serve, the more likely it is that you will win the next election too, as you keep building connections with deep-pocketed funders. We lose our chance to fully participate in democracy when your strategy is to accumulate so much special interest money that you deter anyone wanting to make a serious run against you from even trying, much less winning. With the big funders on your side, who actually chooses you: Wall St. or Maine voters?

Only this political system could embrace the pretense that corporations are persons who have free speech rights. You have already raised far more special interest money early on in your campaigns than ever before. It looks like you are preparing to defend yourselves from an onslaught of corporate free speech attack ads by potent new Super PACs. Big money politics wants no limits. Soon, special interests will likely fund nearly 100% of campaigns and ordinary voters will realize it’s become pointless for them to continue contributing.

A barrage of attack ads aired in our living rooms is the face of politics we’re most likely to see in the months ahead. The corporate creators of these ads do not view us as citizens to be persuaded, but as “marks” to be set up by exploiting our fears. Your use of these tactics to win elections is likely to cause even more of us to turn away from politics in disgust.

Those corporations and other special interests that contribute to your campaigns are among an elite group that has emerged as the winners in our society and economy today. As long as big money controls Congress members and Presidents, the rest of us will never gain a seat at the table of power where the real decisions get made.

Much is rightly made of partisan gridlock in Congress. Corporations and lobbyists help achieve gridlock by disproportionately funding members of Congress who are the most partisan. Their power to block legislation further solidifies their hold on government.

I’ve heard you complain about how partisan Congress is. But you seem to act as if there’s nothing you can do about it. In fact, there’s a great deal you can do. For an inspiring example, consider Margaret Chase Smith, Maine’s greatest Senator. She knew a threat to democracy when she saw it. In 1952 she exposed Senator Joseph McCarthy as a liar. Nearly all politicians were afraid to stand up to him. He had ruined the careers of hundreds of army officers, government officials, writers and movie actors by accusing them of being Communists. Senator Smith stood up to him even though his people smeared her by calling her “Moscow Maggie.” She risked losing her career when he ran someone against her. But her own integrity and courage, as well as the wisdom of Maine voters, enabled her to survive this challenge. McCarthy and his tactics of intimidation were discredited.

Today, corruption of our political system by special interest money is an even bigger threat to democracy. You have the same choices about how to respond that Senator Margaret Chase Smith did back then. I ask you to show the same wisdom and courage she did and break big money’s hold on politics in Maine and the nation.

How? Refuse all special interest money. Accept only contributions from individual Mainers limited to a maximum of several hundred dollars. Let’s make it an election by Mainers, not a selection by outsiders. Also, support constitutional amendments that will end corporate personhood and put in place a publicly financed election system without loopholes. I’m well aware that people in positions of power rarely relinquish any aspect of their power voluntarily. However, you do have a choice.

This is a good time politically for you to risk taking this history making action. You all won last time by good margins. You are respected by many Mainers, who will embrace you all the more for standing up against special interest domination of politics. Try working together (bipartisanship) to make it happen.

If you don’t act, we will. Thomas Jefferson warned us long ago that corporations would try to use their financial power to gain control of government. It is our job now to abolish their hold on government and return to the Founding Fathers’ intent: a government of, by, and for the People.

Doug Bowen, Porter, Maine   diannes.dougb@gmail.com

 

From a full page ad to be published in the Portland Press Herald on friday, February 3, 2012, paid for by members and friends of Occupy Wall Street/Maine. For more information about Occupy Maine and its goal of freeing democracy from the corruption of money, contact them at 221-5899.

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