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Who Owns Congress?

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Over a year ago, we suffered the most significant financial collapse since the Great Depression, and the result of that is massive unemployment and underemployment. People lost their savings. People lost their homes. Now, despite the greed and illegal behavior of Wall Street, there is a massive effort to make sure that Congress does nothing about it. You know what? That might end up being the result.

How does it happen that Wall Street was able to convince Congress to deregulate their industry, to be in a position to bring the economy down? How does it happen that they are able to fend off serious efforts in Congress to try to re-regulate the financial institutions to protect the American people? Here's the answer: In the last 10 years, Wall Street and big financial institutions have spent over $5 billion in campaign contributions and in lobbying activities. It doesn't matter whether you are a Democrat or a Republican; if you have any influence they are going to go after you.

How is it that we pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs? How does that happen that we are the only country on earth that doesn't in one way or another regulate the cost of drugs to prevent the reality that when you walk into the drug store tomorrow the price you are paying may in fact be doubled. It may have something to do with the fact that since 1998 the pharmaceutical industry has spent over $1.6 billion on lobbying and they employ over 1,100 lobbyists -- more than two lobbyists for every member of Congress.

What about health care? How is it that we are the only country in the industrialized world that does not have a national health care plan guaranteeing health care to all people? How is it that in the health care bill that's now being debated in the Finance Committee the private insurance companies and the drug companies are doing pretty well? Might it have something to do with the fact that since 1990, the health care industry has spent over $850 million dollars in campaign contributions?

Why is it that we have record breaking defense budgets despite the end of the Cold War? Well, over the last decade the defense industry has spent more than $447 million on lobbying and made $144 million in campaign contributions.

Big Oil is the same story. Exxon-Mobil makes record-breaking profits. Working people pay very high prices at the gas pump. Do you think that has something to do that the oil and gas industry has spent more than $830 million dollars on lobbying and $240 million in campaign contributions over the past two decades?

On and on it goes. The reality of Washington, to a very significant degree, is that those people who have the money are able to influence public policy. Big money controls the agenda. If you don't have the money, you get to the end of the line.

That's the reality today. It could get worse. Right now, the Supreme Court is considering a case that could be used to open the coffers of all the big corporations to directly fund campaign ads in this country. So you would not just be dealing with political action committees and lobbyists, you would have to deal with the treasuries of large corporations.

This is a huge issue. The antidote, in my view, is public funding of elections so that everybody has the opportunity to run for office without having to be beholden to powerful special interests. We have begun to see progress at the statewide level. But if you are concerned about public policy in general in this country, health care, the environment, whatever it may be, we have got to pay attention to the power of big money.

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