Jim Hightower

Mocking Democracy


Would you like to get a 22-percent return on the money you invest? That’d be awfully good in today’s sorry market!

How about a 2,200-percent return? No way, you say, that’d be a Ponzi scheme. Now try a 22,000-percent return. If you think that’s the stuff of fantasyland, you’ve been playing in the wrong market. That’s the payday corporations have received by investing in a sure thing: Washington lobbyists.

Three University of Kansas professors recently issued a report on corporate lobbying to win a tax break in 2004. Pushed in the name of job creation, the bill (which drastically cut corporate taxes on foreign profits) created no job gains for workaday folks, but it did produce a boon for lobbyists. The study found that 93 major companies-including giants like Pfizer Inc., IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.-spent $283 million on lobbyists to slide the bill through Congress. In return, the legislation allowed the corporations to dodge $62.5 billion in taxes-a 22,000-percent return on their investment.

Not every lobbying campaign produces such eye-popping results, but Washington influence peddlers now promise corporate clients returns of 100-to-1 or better on every lobbying dollar they spend. What we have here is an admission-a boast, really-that legislation is for sale and that you have to pay to play.

It’s the old golden rule-them with the gold rule-and it mocks America’s pretension to representative democracy. To help push for lobbying reform, contact the U.S. Public Interest Research Group at www.uspirg.org.

Belly of the Beast

A group of Montana legislators has come up with a truly innovative reform to deal with corporate influence over legislative committees: Rather than allowing lobbyists to crawl all over the state Capitol trying to influence committee action, why not send committee members straight to the lobbyists? 

It seemed like such a neat idea that the Montana Senate’s Agriculture Committee gave it a go in March. At issue was a bill affecting such biotech seed giants as Monsanto Co., which frequently bully farmers by accusing them of illegally using the companies’ genetically altered seeds. The bill required that seed corporations get permission or a court order before trampling into farmers’ fields to run tests.

The bill had passed the House and was headed toward passage in the Senate until Monsanto and other biotech interests summoned the ag committee. Rather than testify at a public hearing, the corporate powers held a closed-door session with six of the nine committee members over dinner at Helena’s private Montana Club.

Not that anything’s unusual or suspicious, said the committee chairman. “The lobbyists wanted to inform the committee of their concerns, and that’s all it was about,” he shrugged. A spokesman for the biotech corporations was just as dismissive. “We weren’t buying anybody’s votes,” he sniffed.

Then why all the sneakiness? Why not express your concerns in public, like everyone else? Why didn’t the senators pay their own tabs? And why should we trust anything that comes out of such a corrupt process?

Shortly after their dinner and dance behind the club’s closed doors, the committee voted 6-3 to kill the bill.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com.