Call It the "Gulf BP Congress Catastrophe" and Fix Congress First

07/06/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The catastrophe level disaster in the gulf is a symptom. Plugging a well or some leaking pipe holes will not fix the problem.

This historic catastrophe should be given a name that describes the guilty parties -- BP and Congress.

Congress failed to protect one third of America's seafood source.

Congress failed to protect the estuaries where our future food sources breed and grow.

Congress failed to anticipate that a drilling accident could reach the gulf stream and affect the entire East Coast.

The words "chose to ignore and allow to happen" could be substituted.

BP was allowed to penetrate without protection. Yes. That's a sexual analogy. BP was encouraged and legislatively enabled to go "bareback" into the gulf, regardless of the risks. Members of Congress were bought and paid for by lobbyists. How could Congress pass legislation limiting damages to $75 million dollars -- after the Exxon Valdez, which cost billions in recovery and reparations? Those legislators, if they're not already working for the oil industry, should be identified -- every one-- and excoriated by the public.

Now, some legislators are doing too little too late to repair some of the most outrageous, embarrassing Congressional history. Don't expect it to be great or the right thing. Do expect it to be watered down, inadequate, with loopholes. That's the way Congress works in the 21st century. Look at the shameful health care reform package we ended up with. Look at the weak, inadequate financial reform bill that is coming forward. Look at the failure to do competent legislation on climate change, immigration -- everywhere you turn.

Congress no longer represents the American people. It doesn't legislate in the best interests of human constituents. It is corrupted to the core, even the most progressive, even the most far right legislators, by big money. Any legislation that congress is producing is so weak, so watered down and filled with loopholes for special interests, it's barely worth the paper it's printed on.

Congress should stop all other legislation and reform election finance. The bill Chuck Schumer and Chris Van Holland are working on is not good enough. The Fair Elections Act Now bill has over 130 house sponsors and goes much farther towards eliminating big money from elections. It is described at -- a site co-founded by internet and law visionaries Joe Trippi and Lawrence Lessig.

If you're writing about the oil catastrophe that started in the gulf, call it the GULF BP Congress Catastrophe. When history remembers this earth and humanity shaking event, let it have a name that places the blame where it is due.

I interviewed Lawrence Lessig the other day (Podcast here.) Lessig cited some of the reform promises Obama made that he has failed to deliver, which has caused all his other efforts to be stymied or diluted to the point of being almost worthless:

"If we do not change our politics -- if we do not fundamentally change the way Washington works -- then the problems we've been talking about for the last generation will be the same ones that haunt us for generations to come."


"So unless we're willing to challenge the broken system in Washington, and stop letting lobbyists use their clout to get their way, nothing else is going to change."


"If we're not willing to take up that fight, then real change -- change that will make a lasting difference in the lives of ordinary Americans -- will keep getting blocked by the defenders of the status quo."

And Lessig observed, in a Huffington Post article, "Somehow this Administration forgot to "take up that fight." Somehow it has allowed the enemy to become the second largest political party in America (Republicans) rather than the single most vilified profession (lobbyists, just below lawyers and used car dealers). Somehow Obama has been convinced that his promise of bold leadership was a mistake. Somehow he has come to believe that realistic if puny ideas are the ways of transformational presidents like Reagan and FDR. Yet somehow we have got to get this president to recognize that it was the "realism" of 2009 that was his mistake. What American democracy needs right now is leadership. It needs a President who shows us a way to restore our democracy. It needs the anger and impatience of the Republican Roosevelt (Teddy), railing against the corrupting influence of money in politics."

The response to the SCOTUS Citizens United decision by Chuck Schumer is not enough. It only TELLS where the money comes from. The Fair Elections Now act takes power from the wealthy individuals and corporations and limits contributions to $100, with the government matching that with $400. This will take the top-down influence out of elections and make them the more bottom up, influence-free democratic processes that we-the-people deserve.

Lessig, a former Stanford and now Harvard Attorney and internet philosopher luminary writes on many different political topics, but always comes back to this core problem. Undue money influences every aspect of our politics and government. If we are going to fix the environment or the banking system or health care, we must first get the money out of elections and politics. Obama promised he would do it, then dropped the ball. We need to make election reform the first priority or none of the other priorities will matter. I call for writers and activists to take Lessig's approach and tie whatever issues you are covering to election reform. Anything less will be depending upon a broken, corrupted system where even those with the best intentions have to play the big money game.

Tell your house representative that before congress does anything else, you want election financial reform. Do it today. No other legislation is as important.

Crossposted from