Published on Friday, November 21, 2014 by Moyers & Company
by Bill Moyers
Portrait of Louis the XVI by Antoine-François Callet. (Portrait: commons.wikimedia.org)
We’ve been watching Congress since the mid-term elections and reading Zephyr Teachout’s terrific history book, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United. That snuff box was a gift from King Louis XVI of France. His Majesty was a good friend of the American Revolution but when he gave Benjamin Franklin the gold box, featuring the monarch’s portrait surrounded with diamonds, some of our Founding Fathers objected. They worried that the gift would corrupt his judgment and unduly bias Franklin in France’s favor.
The framers debated the meaning of corruption at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and Americans have been arguing about it ever since. Today, gifts to politicians that were once called graft or bribes are called contributions. The Supreme Court has granted corporations the rights our founders reserved for people, and told those corporations they can give just about anything they want to elect politicians favorable to their interests. Diamond and gold snuff boxes are as outmoded as the king’s powdered wig. Now we’re talking cash — millions upon millions of dollars. Quadrupled, quintupled and then some – and it’s not considered corruption.
Consider the new report from the watchdog Sunlight Foundation: From 2007 to 2012, the two hundred most politically active corporations in the United States spent almost $6 billion for lobbying and campaign contributions. And they received more than $4 trillion in US government contracts and other forms of assistance. That’s $760 for every dollar spent on influence, a stunning return on investment.
Peter Overby at National Public Radio reported that “Military contractors lead the list of contract recipients, and they hover in the upper ranks of companies with the biggest campaign contributions.” Raytheon, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin – all of them made hefty political donations to Republican campaigns. Not coincidentally, this year the Pentagon is due to spend $163 billion on research, development and procurement.
Our government has become a clearing house for corporations and plutocrats whose dollars grease the wheels for lucrative contracts and easy regulation.
Then look at who’s expected to be the new Republican chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee – Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Breathlessly, The Washington Post writes, “This could mean additional funding for the Navy to modernize its fleet and potentially benefit contractors such as shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls.” Guess what company describes itself as “the largest manufacturing employer in Mississippi and a major contributor to the economic growth of the state,” not to mention a major contributor this year to Thad Cochran’s re-election campaign? Why, shiver our timbers, it’s Huntington Ingalls.
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