Returns On Investment

05/25/2011 12:20 pm ET

With only a handful of weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, public attention is focused on who will be the next president. Meanwhile, as the New York Times reported on Sunday, big business lobbies are pushing the Bush Administration to weaken key consumer and environmental laws. But the report neglected to mention that these big business lobbies were also generous donors to our current president.

As President George W. Bush's time in the White House wanes, and with prospects strong for a Democratic takeover, big money interests have no time to lose. Robert Pear's story highlighted how big lobbies are pushing to weaken rules that give workers time off for family and medical leave; to weaken emission standards for electric utilities, to allow truck drivers to work longer hours, to weaken safety standards for automobile roofs, and to make it legal to dump mountaintop mining rubble in valleys and streams.

The industries most affected by the proposed regulations above--manufacturers, electric utilities, trucking, and coal mining--donated nearly $10 million to Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns (see chart below). Let's hope Senate and House leadership don't give these big money donors a free ride. Consumer and environmental advocates oppose these changes--but they don't have the same kind of bankroll at their disposal.

As the story notes, "Documents on file at several agencies show that business groups have stepped up lobbying in recent months, as they try to help the Bush administration finish work on rules that have been hotly debated and, in some cases, litigated for years."

They're lobbying and no doubt reminding lawmakers and federal officials of their contributions on their behalf. As these lobbyists and industries start trending Democratic as the tide turns, there is one way out of this pay to play system: full public financing of elections.

The Fair Elections Now Act, introduced in March by Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) would make elections about voters instead of big money campaign donors. Once elected, these officials would be free to legislate on what's best for their constituents and the nation--not what's best for corporate interests and big campaign contributors.

It's not surprising these folks are trying to get their regulations approved before Bush's time is up. If I gave someone $10 million, I'd probably want something in return too.