Jim Hightower

Checkbook Democracy


They came pouring into Philadelphia and Los Angeles, coming for the two biggest political galas of the year – the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions.

Only, it’s not the flood of delegates, politicians, or media I’m talking about, but the tidal wave of corporate dollars that have poured into the two conventions. Instead of these quadrennial events being proud exercises in democracy, they’ve become what the Center for Public Integrity calls the “Super Bowls of the influence of money on politics.” Asked why Lockheed Martin, the giant military contractor, was putting $100,000 into both the Republican and the Democratic national conventions, a company spokesman deadpanned: “We support the democratic process.” Yeah … and a fox enters the henhouse to support the egg-laying process.

The big television networks say they are only giving scant coverage to this summer’s presidential-nominating conventions because nothing really is happening there. But if they would turn their cameras away from the pre-programmed fluff on the podium and focus on who’s inside the corporate skyboxes, who is golfing with whom at the nearby private clubs, which corporate jets are sitting on the airport tarmac, and who’s having private tête-à-têtes with the nominees, then they’d have a real story worthy of national network coverage – the buying of the democratic process by a handful of corporate elites.

General Motors has put a million dollars into each convention, as has AT&T and Microsoft. The insurance and financial conglomerate AIG has put $500,000 into the GOP’s event, and two million into the Democrats’ gathering. Dozens of other brand-name corporations are investing half-a-million or a quarter-million dollars each in these conventions, which The New York Times refers to as “orgies of cash, providing yet another route for corporations to buy political access.” Philip Morris, for example, gave $250,000 to the Republican event, for which it got listed as an official “sponsor” of the convention, was allowed to fly in its lobbyists and executives to schmooze at private events with the nominees and congressional leaders, and even got a downtown street renamed “Philip Morris” for the convention week. The company spokeswoman said, “It is important to our shareholders and employees that we try to build relationships in venues that are important to us.”

If you translate her corporate-speak into English, she’s saying: “We brought bales of cash to Philadelphia so we could buy our way into the back rooms and play kissy-face with the politicians so they’ll like us and do what we want back in Washington.” All of these companies have favors they need from the next President and the Congress. Not only does their convention sponsorship money buy good will from the party bigwigs, but it also buys schmoozing time with the nominees and key congressional leaders.

In fact, since the nominees, platforms, and other party matters have already been decided before the delegates even arrive, the only reason the conventions exist is to give the money powers an excuse to hang out with the political powers. The business of these conventions is business.

To add insult to injury, the corporations get a tax deduction for the millions of dollars they spend on these conventions, meaning we the public subsidize them to buy our democratic process out from under us. Now, isn’t that a story the media should be covering?


Well, there we have it: Gore-Bush. Dull versus Dullard.

No matter which one of them wins, AT&T, Microsoft, Boeing, Disney, and Exxon wins. They’re among dozens of giants that have put at least $50,000 each into the pockets of both camps, not only buying the loyalties of the candidates, but also controlling the political debate. So, basic kitchen-table issues that matter to most people will not even be on the table for discussion, because the money masters of the GoreBush flim-flam campaign don’t want their candidates – or you and me – talking about such troubling issues. Here are just a few examples of what the Democrats and Republicans will NOT be discussing, much less challenging:

The Mugging of the Middle Class. Gore and Bush gush about the glories of the razzle-dazzle Wall Street “Boom,” but neither mentions that eight out of ten Americans are experiencing more bust than boom, with corporate downsizings, farm bankruptcies, and family debt soaring.Merger Mania. Every industry is being consolidated and conglomerated by huge corporations swallowing each other to become MegaHuge, gaining monopoly power that cuts our jobs, raises prices, squeezes out small competitors, reduces service, and bullies our communities. Yet Gore and Bush quietly take millions from the merging barons and stay eerily silent.Globaloney. Rapacious corporations are empowered and even subsidized by our government to export U.S. jobs, exploit foreign workers and the environment, and undercut our very right to self government. Gore and Bush, however, are funded by the corporate globalists, so neither will see, hear, or speak any evil about this outrage.

On these and dozens of other key issues – from the stupid “drug war” to the crying need for universal health care – Gore and Bush are not engaged in an election, but in a scurrilous scam to preserve the status quo. And “status quo” is Latin for “the mess we’re in.”

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts nationwide daily from Austin. His new book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. Find him at www.jimhightower.com, or write [email protected]