Commentary

A reminder of who the special interests are and what they’re after

corporate20welfareThe phenomenon of big special interests literally buying public officials via the obscene spectacle of modern elections has become so ingrained in our culture these days that nearly everyone has become numbed by and immune to the whole thing. It’s gotten to the point that when a political operative goes on TV to brag about how much special interest money he forked over to elect a candidate, we’re more shocked by the operative’s, uh, demeanor than we are by his message.

In the interest, therefore, of reminding folks of what we’re really talking about, you are hereby urged to read (or re-read if you’ve already glanced at it) last week’s New York Times story entitled “Lobbyists, Bearing Gifts, Pursue Attorneys General.” The story is the first in what appears to be a new series entitled “Courting Favor,” and it tells in straightforward and disturbing terms just how blatant corporate mouthpieces have become in their efforts to — there’s no other way to say this — buy and bribe public officials. This is from the story:

Attorneys general are now the object of aggressive pursuit by lobbyists and lawyers who use campaign contributions, personal appeals at lavish corporate-sponsored conferences and other means to push them to drop investigations, change policies, negotiate favorable settlements or pressure federal regulators, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

A robust industry of lobbyists and lawyers has blossomed as attorneys general have joined to conduct multistate investigations and pushed into areas as diverse as securities fraud and Internet crimes.

But unlike the lobbying rules covering other elected officials, there are few revolving-door restrictions or disclosure requirements governing state attorneys general, who serve as “the people’s lawyers” by protecting consumers and individual citizens.

A result is that the routine lobbying and deal-making occur largely out of view. But the extent of the cause and effect is laid bare in The Times’s review of more than 6,000 emails obtained through open records laws in more than two dozen states, interviews with dozens of participants in cases and attendance at several conferences where corporate representatives had easy access to attorneys general.

The Times story is especially disturbing because the favor buying is so blatant, but none of us should kid ourselves into thinking that the situation with some Attorneys General is meaningfully different from what goes on with a huge proportion of other high profile politicians in the post Citizens United era. For now, as last night’s election and celebrations vividly reminded us, our government has been purchased by well-heeled special interests and we should harbor no illusions as to what they’re after.

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