We all care about many different issues. Maybe you’re wondering how yours fits in with the issue of special interest money in corrupting politics. Maybe you think it doesn't. It turns out, though, that many, many issues are negatively affected by special interests in our political processes. The list below gives just one example each of how big money makes it hard to affect change on other issues.
Animal Rights, Campaign Finance Reform, Drug Legalization, Education, Environment, Government Spending, Gun Control, Gun Rights, Health, Hunger, Immigration, International Policy, LGBT, Pro Choice, Pro Life, Taxes, War/Defense, Women's Rights
Animal Rights: Think of a little puppy. Doesn’t it make you smile? Who doesn’t love them? It turns out many special interests don’t – at least they don’t care about their well-being if it threatens their bottom line. In 2010, the voters in MO passed a referendum to better regulate puppy mills, making them less horrendous for the dogs and puppies on site. But the MO legislature overturned the will of the voters in 2011. State Senator Bill Stouffer (R) filed the repeal. Many special interest groups were against the bill including the American Kennel Club, the Missouri Farm Family Agricultural Alliance, the Missouri Farm Bureau, and the Southeast Missouri Cattlemen’s Association – all of whom lobbied hard for the repeal. Stouffer, himself a farmer, also receives thousands of dollars in contributionsfrom the farming industry.
Campaign Finance Reform After campaign finance reform advocates received a blow from the Citizens United decision, Democrats in the Senate tried a small effort at remediating the problem with the 2010 Disclose Act. Senate Republicans, though, led by Mitch McConnell, filibustered the bill. It’s no wonder since McConnell receives millions of dollars from special interests during every election cycle. He’s a top recipient of almost every industry, from coal to pharmaceuticals to tobacco to lobbyists.
Drug Legalization: The legalization of marijuana comes up quite a bit these days as a new generation becomes okay with the idea. But keeping the drug illegal is big business for some. The top 5 special interest groups who want the drug to remain criminalized are: police unions, private prison corporations, alcohol and beer companies, pharmaceutical companies, and prison guard unions.
Education: There are two sides to this debate: charter schools vs. teachers unions. Charter schools receive federal funding but are regulated less, which proponents say allows them to be more innovative in their teaching techniques. But others are concerned some operators are just in it to make a buck. Recently Ohio saw some controversy when they passed a law making charter schools less transparent and less accountable for poor performance. The charters had also given top politicians $4 million in contributions.
On the other hand, teachers unions are often accused of putting teachers’ interests ahead of students’. Just this election cycle, teachers unions have given millions of dollars primarily to democrats. A long saga has been going on in NY with the attempt to fire bad teachers in under-performing schools. Although current Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has been seen as unsympathetic toward teachers unions, other politicians have helped create laws that seem to protect under-performing teachers.
Environment: This one is almost too easy. Entire books have been written about the power of oil companies, alone. The oil and gas industry spends hundreds of millions on campaign contributions and lobbying to get policies that favor their bottom line. The rollback of regulation in the 2005 Energy Policy Act signed into law by George W. Bush and heavily pushed for by Dick Cheney (both former oil execs) put $3.6 billion back into industry pockets. Also in that law was what’s now known as the Halliburton Loophole, which says that fracking cannot be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Guess who was head of Halliburton just a few years prior and got a $34 million bonus from the company once securing a seat in Washington. You may have guessed: Dick Cheney.
Government Spending: There are so many industries that we subsidize now, that some argue we don’t even have capitalism anymore. We simply have crony capitalism. Since I’ve already picked on the oil industry, let’s talk about agribusiness. Every 5 years the Farm Bill is passed, which is a huge piece of legislation basically hand-crafted by food corporations. The result is hundreds of billions of dollars in government spending going mostly to already profitable companies.
Gun Control: The Trayvon Martin case in early 2012 in Florida really brought to light the effect of money on this issue. Two well-funded gun rights groups, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), basically crafted the Stand Your Ground law that was in question with this case and then, lobbied hard to get it passed. The law has been called “shoot first, ask questions later.” In CO, after Columbine, lawmakers voted against he majority and voted to keep the "gunshow loophole" open. Here is a list of current (2012) CO lawmakers who take gun lobby money.
Gun Rights: On this particular issue, money wins the day. Gun rights groups like the NRA give millions of dollars in contributions each year. They spend millions of dollars more on lobbying. Because of the influence of gun rights groups, gun control laws that are sought after tragedies still end up failing. Importantly, these laws fail even though the majority of Americans support gun control. After the Columbine shooting in 1999, Congress tried to pass a law requiring background checks at gun shows (where the guns for Columbine were purchased), but the bill failed. These 2 charts show how the votes by Senators and Representatives coincided with their contributions from gun rights groups. But these groups may not fully represent the concerns of gun rights activists. Recently, the NRA threatened Senators to vote against the DISCLOSE act. Why should a gun rights group be concerned about transparency in elections?
Health: Whether you think we needed a public option, are against the individual mandate, or are somewhere in the middle, The Affordable Care Act is the most prominent example of money affecting the issue of health. During 2009, while the bill was being debated, over 1,700 special interest groups had registered as lobbyists on this bill, spending more than $1 billion in their efforts. Insurance companies lobbied both for the individual mandate (which would bring them millions of customers) and against the public option (which would have lost them customers), both of which they got. They also lobbied against consumer protections, which they did not get but are still working on for the future.
Hunger: The largest U.S. food program, SNAP benefits, provides food for 10’s of millions of American each year. Some of the money in the in multi-billion dollar program doesn’t go to feed the hungry but instead, goes to pay the profitable. Large private banks like J.P. Morgan Chase are paid by states to administer the program. In fact, J.P. Morgan Chase holds the biggest piece of the pie, controlling contracts in 24 states. Most shockingly, the USDA who controls SNAP doesn’t even keep data on how much these banks are being paid. J.P. Morgan is a huge contributor to both Democrats and Republicans, and it spends millions more on lobbying efforts.
Immigration: No matter what side you’re on in this issue, you can bet special interests are there with you. Private prison corporations lobby for anti-immigration laws because immigrants are one of their largest populations. More people mean more money for prisons. On the other hand, farms and agribusiness line up against anti-immigration laws, citing a cheap labor force willing to do grimy work.
International Policy: There are many forms of international policy, from international aid to national security to trade. Let’s take a look at international aid. According to current policy set forth in the Farm Bill, food aid to other countries must be grown and packaged in the U.S. and sent abroad on U.S. ships (thanks to the shipping and trade lobbies), which costs billions of dollars to U.S. taxpayers and disrupts the local markets. Without the investment in local food and farms, local farmers and traders lose their jobs. Unable to operate local farms, communities become more dependent on food aid. Agribusiness gives millions to politicians to get these laws passed.
LGBT: Religious institutions appear to provide much of the funding against LGBT rights issues. They had a part to play in the failure of the CO civil unions bill in 2012, and they had a huge role in the overturning of Prop 8 in California. $40 million was raised in the effort to overturn Prop 8, most of which was spent on fear-based advertising. Nearly half of that money came directly from Mormons and their church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has since been fined for misreporting $37,000 in contributions related to their activities on Prop 8.
Pro Choice: During the healthcare debate in 2009, many special interests were involved, including groups from the pro-choice and the pro-life movements. The issue of whether to mandate coverage of abortions came up, so pro-life groups sent contributions to both Republicans and Democrats. Their investments paid off. 19 key democratic house members sent then Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, a letter calling the mandate “unacceptable.” All but 5 of those 19 members also received contributions in the thousands from pro-life groups, and not a single one received money from pro-choice groups. The mandate was not included in the final bill.
Pro Life: This group is often outspent by its opposing side, by nearly 3 to 1. During a debate to reform health insurance, an amendment was put on the table that would further restrict access to abortions, especially for low-income women. The amendment was killed when it was tabled by a Senate vote of 54-45. Most of those that voted to table the bill also received thousands of dollars in contributions from pro-choice groups.
Taxes: We’re sure you all know that there are some very profitable companies who do not pay any taxes. If you didn’t before, here’s a list of 30 that have negative tax rates. Yes, you read that correctly. Many also contribute to key politicians’ campaigns. When large companies don’t pay, the little guys like us make up the difference in payroll tax, income tax, and sales tax.
War/Defense: Even in war, there is money to be made. In early 2012, House Republicans passed a defense budget draft that was $8 billion more (a total of $643 billion) than the previous year’s budget and $4billion more than requested by the Pentagon. So why spend more on defense than the military itself requested? It turns out the committee members in charge of coming up with the draft benefit greatly from the defense industry. The chairman alone, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), gets hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from industries that benefit from a little extra “Pentagon pork.”
Women's Rights: The Paycheck Fairness Act, which failed both in 2010 and 2012 after Senate Republicans filibustered it, would have given women more tools to fight wage discrimination. The bill was blocked citing added burdens on businesses, and boy did business agree. While the 2010 bill was being debated, 74 groups registered as lobbyists on it, including some prominent examples like the Chamber of Commerce, Koch Industries, American Bankers Association, Dell, GE, and Wal-Mart. It seems their bottom line didn’t line up with equal pay.