Jim Hightower

The Hard and the Soft


Contrary to popular perception, it’s easy to get the attention of most members of Congress–just write your request on the back of a big campaign check. Alas, few of us peasants can write five-figure checks. Of course, Congress critters themselves indignantly deny that any such game goes on, but every now and then, the congressional log gets lifted.

The latest incident involves a Kansas corporation called Westar Energy Inc. and four top congressional leaders. We only know about this because some Westar executives were caught this year in a mess of criminal activity, and the subsequent investigation turned up a most interesting e-mail from a Westar vice-president to other company executives. Westar wanted an exemption from a federal regulation and hoped to have its exemption slipped into an energy bill. “We have a plan for participation to get a seat at the table,” wrote the Veep, who bluntly named the price: “The total package will be $31,500 in hard money (individual) and $25,000 in soft money (corporate).” He then identified the four Congress critters who named the price–Reps. Tom DeLay, Joe Barton, Billy Tauzin, and Sen. Richard Shelby. The money was paid–and sure enough, Rep. Barton slipped Westar’s exemption into the bill.

When the e-mail became public, all four feigned outrage that anyone could even think they would trade legislative favors for campaign cash. But there it was–they admit they took the cash–and promptly did the deed, all behind what they thought at the time were securely closed doors. To stop this corrupt corporate money, we must provide public financing of our elections. To start where you live, call Public Campaign: 202-293-0222.

Leave No Hummer Behind

The Bushites have hoisted themselves by their own political petard, and–ouch–that hurts! The petard in question is George’s famous campaign slogan promising to “leave no child behind.” That’s a sweet thought, but it recently smashed up against the rock hard, right-wing ideology of plutocracy that is the governing ethic of this bunch–an ethic that basically preaches, “leave no millionaire behind, and everyone else take the hindmost.”

At issue was W.’s $350 billion tax giveaway to the wealthiest of the wealthy–the least needy families in America. The millionaire class will enjoy an average of about $93,000 a year from Uncle Sugar in this giveaway. There’s even a special “Hummer deduction” tucked into the bill– sort of like the prize in a box of Cracker Jacks. It gives a tax deduction of up to $100,000 to business owners who buy a vehicle weighing at least 6,000 pounds. To provide a political sham for this rip-off by the rich, the Bushites tossed in a $400-per-child increase in the child tax credit, allowing George to proclaim with a straight face that his plutocratic boondoggle will “reduce tax rates for everyone who pays income taxes.” But he lied. Nearly 12 million children live in low-income working families that do pay income tax, but were simply excluded from George’s $400 tax credit. That’s one in every six children that he left behind–including the children of some 200,000 men and women of the military. Yet, when confronted with this, Tom DeLay waved his hand dismissively and barked, “There are a lot of things more important than that.” That’s their compassionate conservatism–$100,000 for Hummer owners, and not even $400 for the children of poor working families.

And Corporate Reform?

We’re really teaching those high-flying CEOs a lesson in corporate ethics, aren’t we? The latest to have to take their medicine are six former top execs at Xerox Corporation. The SEC recently determined that they cooked the company books and illegally inflated profits by $1.4 billion over four years, fraudulently misleading investors and allowing themselves to pocket millions in undeserved personal pay. But the SEC regulators have now socked the slippery-fingered six with $22 million in penalties! But under the sweetheart corporation bylaws, $19 million of this legal assessment will be picked up not by the executives, but by Xerox and its insurance companies –plus, Xerox will pay the legal fees for the six.

So it’s you shareholders of Xerox and you ratepayers of the insurers who’ll pick up the bulk of the tab. Ultimately we taxpayers will be hit for it, since Xerox can deduct a chunk from its corporate income tax as a cost of doing business. Crime pays! Paul Allaire, for example, was the Xerox CEO who presided over this shameful ripoff, and he has to pay a million-dollar fine out of his own pocket. That sounds like a serious bit of punishment … until you do the math. The SEC found that he had put $5.7 million worth of fraudulent gain in that pocket during the four-year scam. His haul is a net of $4.7 million–good work if you can get it! The lawyer for Allaire and another Xerox executive said that the two chieftans had settled so they could “put this issue behind them and get on with their lives.” So much for reforming corporate ethics.

Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To order his books or schedule him for a speech, visit www.jimhightower.com. To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900.