Do Congressional Bribes Actually Result In Bad Policies? Oy
It's beyond outrageous that our elected officials get to write the rules that govern their own behavior even to the point of twisting the meaning of bribery to exclude their own most basic criminality. Jack Abramoff, the Republican Party operative who went to prison for bribing dozens of Republican congressmen-- none of whom joined him behind bars-- explained DC bribery succinctly in his post-prison tome, Capitol Punishment:
[C]ontributions from parties with an interest in legislation are really nothing but bribes. Sure, it's legal for the most part. Sure, everyone in Washington does it. Sure it's the way the system works. It's one of Washington's dirty little secrets-- but it's bribery just the same...
Simple and straight-forward... unlike the statutes that are basically written by corrupt congressmen to protect themselves from prosecution and allow themselves to continue taking billions of dollars in bribes to finance their careers in return for serving the special interests (i.e.- bribers) at the expense and to the detriment of their own constituents. And yes, this is the true meaning of Washington "bipartisanship." This past weekend the Chicago Tribune and New York Times took up the case of how toxic home products are regulated by Congress to benefit not consumers but campaign donors from the toxic home products manufacturers and distributors.
The average American baby is born with 10 fingers, 10 toes and the highest recorded levels of flame retardants among infants in the world. The toxic chemicals are present in nearly every home, packed into couches, chairs and many other products. Two powerful industries-- Big Tobacco and chemical manufacturers-- waged deceptive campaigns that led to the proliferation of these chemicals, which don’t even work as promised.
Nick Kristof in the Times tried to make sense out of the Tribune research and to put it into context. He calls it a superb "case study of everything that is wrong with money politics."
Chances are that if you’re sitting on a couch right now, it contains flame retardants. This will probably do no good if your house catches fire-- although it may release toxic smoke. There is growing concern that the chemicals are hazardous, with evidence mounting of links to cancer, fetal impairment and reproductive problems.
He explains the history of how tobacco lobbyists mounted a surreptitious campaign for flame retardant furniture, rather than safe cigarettes, as the best way to reduce house fires, starting a phony advocacy group called Citizens for Fire Safety that describes itself as “a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders.” But it actually only had 3 members, "which also happen to be the three major companies that manufacture flame retardants: Albemarle Corporation, ICL Industrial Products and Chemtura Corporation." They hired a typically crooked doctor to make up compelling stories that would ease corrupt lawmakers consciences as they gobbled up bribes to pass laws to enrich the companies who were paying them off.
Sad that neither newspaper offers a list of congressmen who need prison terms for the great damage done only statements like this:
It’s not easy for a democracy to regulate technical products like endocrine disruptors that may offer great benefits as well as complex risks, especially when the hazards remain uncertain. A generation ago, Big Tobacco played the system like a violin, and now Big Chem is doing the same thing.
This campaign season, you’ll hear fervent denunciations of “burdensome government regulation.” When you do, think of the other side of the story: your home is filled with toxic flame retardants that serve no higher purpose than enriching three companies. The lesson is that we need not only safer couches but also a political system less distorted by toxic money.
And it's the system itself that is corrupt-- from the ability of Congress to write laws governing its own criminal misbehavior to the way power is achieved inside Congress itself. We've often pointed out that congressmembers rise inside the leadership-- and get preferential committee assignments and chairmanships-- based on their ability to solicit and aggregate bribes and distribute them among their colleagues. That's why conservatives rise in power and progressives rarely do. Progressives, like Raul Grijalva and Jerry Nadler-- two perfect examples-- are motivated by policy. Hunting up campaign cash and payoffs in beneath their dignity and neither is even vaguely motivated by an endeavor that consumes the entire political lives of sleazy operators like Eric Cantor (R-VA), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), John Boehner (R-OH), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Pete Sessions (R-TX), Steve Israel (D-NY) and Buck McKeon (R-CA). It's how we pick our leaders-- and it stinks to high heaven.