Corporations and interest groups have an unlimited ability to spend money on political causes, fostering an unethical and potentially illegal system of influence, a powerful Washington DC lobbyist acknowledged to MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan on Wednesday.
Appearing on the first installment of a series called "Follow the Money," the lobbyist, Jimmy Williams, a principal at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, said corporations and interest groups often do not report to the IRS the large amounts of money they give to lawmakers and political action committees, choosing instead to pay a nominal fine. The money goes into a "black hole," Williams said, perpetuating a system he called "corrupt." In 2009, the congressional publication The Hill named Williams one of capital's top corporate lobbyists.
Williams cited the Supreme Court ruling at the beginning of this year in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (pdf), in which corporations received protection for their First Amendment right to spend money on political causes. Essentially, Williams said, the decision gives corporations the same rights he, a registered lobbyist, has -- except the corporations don't have to register as lobbyists. "If the court is saying that a corporation is a person, then why shouldn't they have to play by the same exact rules that I have to play by?" he said.
The solution, Williams said, is to end the practice of lavish fundraisers, in which these corporations and interest groups write large checks to finance political campaigns, and to switch to a system of federally-financed elections. If each taxpayer paid just four dollars more, he said, every lawmaker and the president would have $1 million per election cycle to spend on publicity.
Williams said both major political parties are in the game and special interests are happy to play in the current system. "Everybody's writing a check."
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