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Michael Winship: On Capitol Hill, Money Is the Root of All Hypocrisy

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

On Capitol Hill, Money Is the Root of All Hypocrisy
By Michael Winship

The great movie comic and professional curmudgeon W.C. Fields once said, “You can fool some of the people some of the time – and that’s enough to make a decent living.” Watching the news from Washington unfold this week, the truth of the late comedian’s words never seemed more right.

The antics of the august members of the House and Senate remind us once again that money is the root of all hypocrisy – especially in politics.

Take United States Senator Roland Burris, appointed by former Illinois governor and clown prince Rod Blagojevich to fill the seat vacated by Barack Obama. Testifying before the impeachment committee investigating Blagojevich, Senator Burris claimed he had no conversations with anyone from the governor’s clan of cronies prior to his appointment. Now he says, oops, I just remembered – the governor’s brother asked me to raise $10,000. Or was it $15,000?

Luckily, Senator Burris still has some space in Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery on that spiffy mausoleum he had built with a list of all his accomplishments. Like some ancient Egyptian pharaoh ordering up the hieroglyphics for his made-to-order pyramid, the senator has room to have inscribed there one final act of public service. “Resignation” would seem to fit rather neatly.

Then there are Republican congressmen John Mica of Florida and Don Young of Alaska. As the McClatchy News Service reported, both stood with their party – good and true, cool conservative men – voting against President Obama’s economic stimulus. So did every other GOP House member. Twice.

But then, eager to ride a gravy train with a popular President at the throttle, each of them had the chutzpah to issue press releases praising aspects of the stimulus package – while never mentioning they’d actually voted “nay.” This was followed by the spectacle of several other Republican House and Senate members who voted against the stimulus going back home during the President’s Day recess and touting the money the bill will provide their constituents.

But the prize of the week – the ever-loving, loving cup – goes to the multitude of Congress members – both Democrats and Republicans – who enjoyed balmy Caribbean breezes and substantial campaign contributions thanks to the largesse of financier Robert Allen Stanford, now accused of bilking investors of some $9 billion and, like W.C. Fields, making a decent living at it.

Stanford prefers being called “Sir Allen,” as befits a Texas charlatan. He was knighted by the governor-general of the West Indies island of Antigua, off-shore headquarters for his alleged con game. He bankrolled “fact-finding” missions to Antigua and other Caribbean ports-of-call for several members of Congress, including Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn and New York Democrat Charlie Rangel, chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Stanford Financial Group was a main sponsor of last month’s Texas state pre-inaugural ball in DC and his political action committee gave $10,000 to help cover the costs of last year’s Congressional baseball game (the Republicans won, for the eighth year in a row, 11-10). “Sir Allen” partied with Nancy Pelosi and Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention last summer. And when Tom Delay was still House majority leader, he flew the friendly skies in Stanford’s private jet 16 times in three years – including a trip to Houston for Delay’s arraignment on money-laundering charges.

Stanford showered millions on political campaigns, much of it from 2001-2002, the very time Congress was debating a bill to curb financial fraud with a computer network linking regulatory data bases. Two of the biggest recipients were Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida – who at the time was chairing the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, another big beneficiary of Stanford love – and Republican Senator John McCain. Three key Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee – then Chair Paul Sarbanes, Charles Schumer and Christopher Dodd received checks, too. The reform bill never got out of the Senate.

According to the non-partisan and indispensable Center for Responsive Politics, over the last decade, Robert Allen Stanford spent nearly $5 million lobbying the Senate and House, on top of $2.4 million in campaign contributions to Federal candidates. Now that he has been tracked down by the FBI and charged with “massive, ongoing fraud,” many politicians are rushing to give the money back to charity, including President Obama, whose campaign received $4600.

Altogether, however, Stanford’s contributions were a spit in the bucket of what he’s alleged to have swindled, and just a tiny slice of the multibillion-dollar pie the lobbying business has become in Washington. Already, lobbyists are jumping all over President Obama’s economic stimulus, so much so the WASHINGTON D.C. EXAMINER newspaper renamed the bill “The Lobbyist Enrichment Act” and reported that, “In the first weeks of this year, about 50 companies, trade associations, municipalities or non-profits retained new lobbyists explicitly to lobby on the stimulus bill.”

According to WASHINGTON POST associate editor Robert G. Kaiser, the lobby industry “has helped moneyed interests protect their status and privileges, undermined government regulation of business and turned our elected officials into chronic money-chasers.”
Kaiser, an intrepid, longtime reporter and native Washingtonian has a new book out titled, SO DAMN MUCH MONEY: THE TRIUMPH OF LOBBYING AND THE CORROSION OF AMERICAN GOVERNMENT. He appeared as a guest on the current edition of BILL MOYERS JOURNAL on public television.

The fix is in, he told my colleague Moyers, eliminating a fair competitive system. We should ask for more transparency, Kaiser suggests. And campaign finance reform would go a long way to making a difference, but he doesn’t think it likely anytime soon.

The “everybody does it” syndrome took over in Washington a long time ago and, in general, an indifferent, cynical public seems unmotivated to do anything about it. “They do not expect Congress to do the right thing,” Kaiser said, “They do not expect high ethical standards. On the contrary.”

So why should the lobbyists and the government stop their profitable roundelay if we fail to do anything to stop the music and fall for the “everybody does it” meme? Do we deserve what we get? The way lobbyists, special interests and politicians regard the citizenry brings to mind another W.C. Fields aphorism, the title of one of his movies: “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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Comments

why is it that the ones who really don't pay taxes, the rich,k complain the most about paying taxes. when they say hey but we are taxed 90% but when you see the way they use the same tax laws to not pay their fair share than they claim it is socialism/communism but when the crash comes they are the first to go to the front of the line with hands out. as for the 'death' tax, when you don't pay taxes on the money andparis hilton spends it than it should be taxed. period. when I cash in my 401K, I don't pay taxes while I am saving but once I cash it, than I am taxed! I understand and pay the taxes. where were you people when your god bush was in office and spending like heck along with the other repubs who claim now to know Jesus? When these 2 wars have been off record but money sent (borrowed money) you did not complain but as soon as a black man comes into the office of President, hey he is a socialist/communish/ ect and going to allow China to kill us!!!! hey the Chinese own this country and has done so for past 8 years!!!!

Now that Rush Lumbah has declared that the we are a Capitalist Government and not a Democracy, we should demand that the Republicans not govern this country. Capitalism is another form of communism. Their God is only MONEY.

We were wrong going into Iraq, Is there any difference in going into Afghanistan?

I agree with Christians that "works" are not sufficient to "salvation," but how can those with a pure heart and a freed mind sit on their hands? Perfected people manifest and glorify, even signify and testify! If I knew and did not act I'd explode (or be a knowing tool of evil). Christ (according to accounts) walked his country over in 3 or 4 years doing everything he could to help and educate. He eschewed personal wealth and engaged in key encounters to demonstrate how correct principles trump power. Socrates did a weaker quest before him, and Buddha an equivalent one with a more universal ideology. Gandhi and King have attempted a quest recently, and there are some mighty enlightened ones out there right now in the peace and ecological movements.

Of course, if you believe God gave people dominion over the Earth to waste it and use it up you could probably be pretty comfortable hording riches, sitting on your hands, waiting for the end like watching TV. If you can't do something nice, do nothing, (Disney)so to speak.

Klark
This is a test...
We are here to be tested for the qualities of citizens of a best possible people for a best possible world.
It is not what we do but our attitude, our concern for other people and right mindedness that counts
Dave

"There is no evil in the atom; only in men's souls."
Adlai Stevenson

I have seen the video three times, will see it again.
I am of the "certain age" of Mr. Palmer and saw what he and Bill saw (U. of Texas grad).
I wish I had something to add or, even better, something to object and discuss. I have the Habits of the Heart book, I best go and read it again, right after I get Palmer's book.
I hope Bill admits that his work is not a pointless idealism, some of us gain much from his work but we don't know exactly how much or know how to describe it.
I agree with Palmer, our ability to reject reality is grossly underestimated.
Got to go, before the bookstore closes.
Great episode, possibly the best but, I have not seen the one for next week.
Thanks.

Put a $ sign in front of a number & the greedy begin scheming on how to get some.

Why shouldn't one's assets go to their children, etc.?
Why should a govt. get the widow's money? Hey, if you think loopholes won't free the wealthy from taxes, you are nieve!

Do you believe that responsible, conservative, mortgage payers should re-imburse those that re-financed repeatedly & are now "under water"?

When a mortgage is refinanced & nets out $50,000 how much tax does your Fed. govt. get?

Those that would take $$ from a widow & children are probably the same that said nothing when the DNP & candidate Change said FL & Mich votes could not count--at least until the nomination was locked up!

Predisent Change selected Biden, Clinton, Daschle, etc. and as an Obama-no-matter-what supporter you think he will return your tax money along with some of your countrymen's so you will be ahead for once.
Good luck on that.

Everybody is treated the same--taxed--that is unless you can afford it then you can just contribute to the DNP.

Chris LaCroix: Don't you watch them evangelical channels? Jesus hates the death tax. It says so in the Book of Plutorunome, Chapter and verse. Chris, you doesn't wanna go to Hell,does ya? You better prime the pump and plant the seed of wealth in your own life by sending us $50 right now, if you wanna get on God's good side. Don't take a dead man's hard earned money now or he want have anything left to buy that pie in the sky, and a cup of shade grown organic Colombian to warsh it down.

Where is the money to come
from? This is the heart of
the matter. It cannot come
from the lower, middle or
even the upper middle class.
The seamless and least painful way to get out of
this problem is to raise $s where it will cause the
least pain. Despite what
the super rich think and the power they weild, they
are mortals and when they die with over a billion in assets would it not be reasonable to tax the estate at 90% for the commonweal? The silliness
of the Federal govt. now creating counterfiet money
to throw at problems is dysfunctional and will only
postpone the day of reckoning which is what we
all face both as a nation
figuritively and as individuals. The constitution alludes to the
pursuit of life, liberty &
the pursuit of happiness.
When you are dead , at least from this writer's perspective, the pursuit of
happiness ends in the physical world where the only 2 constants are death
and taxes. Why not lighten
up on taxes while we are
living and hit us all with
the 1/2 punch when we move
to the next venue. This is
a sure fire way to get some
traction on painless revenue
enhancement and peoples
confidence in the here and
now. There is some eternal
wisdom in the the old saw,
"you can't take it with you".

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