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MOLLY IVINS Government for Sale Thanks to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and all the peacemakers around the globe including those who ruined the administrations television show in Ohio. If we put just half as much money into working for peace as we do into preparing for war , we wouldn’t have to contemplate killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people in order to accomplish jack nd now that we’ve spent not-enough time on the obligatory “whew-and thanks,” let me suggest that we shift our focus to a little matter of the first priority. Something more important than war and peace? The economy? Jobs? Poverty? The homeless? Education? Housing? Yup. Why don’t we spend just half as much money on ensuring peace as we do on preparing for war? Because peace groups don’t make big campaign contributions, and weapons manufacturers make huge ones. In fact, weapons manufacturers contribute so much money to politicians that politicians often vote to spend the public’s money on weapons we don’t need and even on weapons that are pretty useless. More concerned about the economy than campaign finance? Why do you think the bottom 50 percent of the people in this “booming economy” have yet to get back to where they were before the last recession? Why do you think Congress, after years and years of cutting and cutting and cutting social programs, took a great swag of money last summer before we had a balanced budget and gave it to the wealthiest people in this country in the form of tax cuts? Because the wealthy give big campaign contributions, and people in need do not. Go right on down the list, and the answer every time, in every area of governance, is that decisions are not made according to what the people need or what is best for the country decisions are made according to who gave how much money. That’s why it’s especially frustrating to see polls showing that most Americans favor campaign finance reform but they don’t think it’s all that important. Just scouting around the country myself, I have yet to find anyone who doesn’t “get it,” who doesn’t see the connection between campaign contributions and political corruption. But they have no idea how much it costs them personally. Last week, the Senate once more took up the McCain-Feingold bill, a much-watered-down version of campaign finance reform but one that would have the happy effect of banning soft money \(the unlimited swag cause the Republican Party gets the biggest share of soft’money, it opposes reform. Now, this same Senate has just spent an entire year and $3.5 million investigating the fund-raising abuses of the 1996 presidential campaign. All those lurid tales about fund-raising in Buddhist temples and at White House coffees, all the righteous indignation and calls for Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a special prosecutor now is their chance to do something about it, now is their chance to fix it. Watch them verrrry closely. Want an example of how this affects your life? According to the Center for Responsive Politics, during the first half of 1995, meat and poultry PACs distributed $338,205 81 percent of it to Republicans. Of the total amount, $73,987 went to House Agriculture Committee members, with Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas coming out as the top recipient. June 28, 1995, Associated Press: “A key House panel voted Tuesday to block the first sweeping proposal to reform meat and poultry inspections since 1906, despite warnings from consumer groups that the action could be deadly. “The House Appropriations committee voted 26-15 to withhold funds for the Department of Agriculture’s planned changes to the inspection system unless the meat industry is allowed to help re-write them. The USDA changes were designed to use modern scientific techniques to cut down on the 4,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses from contaminated meat every year.” From The New York Times, July 1995: “In the next few weeks, Congress will consider legislation to alter rules on food safety significantly. The changes, scattered throughout several bills, have been proposed by Republicans to limit the federal government’s authority to regulate not only food safety but also health and the environment. “Taken together, the bills would reduce the burden on business to prove that food is safe and would increase the burden on government agencies to prove that proposed rules would reduce risks to the public and would be worth the cost. The bills would also expand the food industry’s chances to appeal the rules in court.” Connect the dots. Follow the bouncing ball. A report just released by Common Cause, “Pocketbook Politics,” shows how powerful special interests helped by generous campaign contributions have won victories in Washington that are costing the American consumer. Since 1991, the special interests examined in the report doled out more than $61.3 million in political contributions nearly $24.6 million of that in unregulated soft money contributions. What did it cost you? $550 million because of lost access to generic drugs. $59 billion annually at the gas pump because for three years Congress has frozen the fuel efficiency standards. $2.8 billion annually from the jump in cable TV bills and pay phone rates that followed the 1996 Telecommunications Act. $1.6 billion in sugar and peanut subsidies. And that, to coin a phrase, is like the tip of that thing that hit the Titanic. And to coin a future phrase, here is today’s Campaign Finance Slogan: “It’s government by the people not people buy the government.” Our reader response to last summer’s slogan drive was incredible. Molly Ivins is a former Observer editor and a columnist for the Fort Worth StarTelegram. You may write to her via e-mail at [email protected] . 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 13, 1998