Back In Washington: Business As Usual
By Arianna Huffington
December 11, 2000
While the rest of the nation is consumed with the chaos in Florida, back in Washington it's business as usual -- with the president signing a new law that gives away more than $60 billion in tax breaks to some big-time campaign donors like Boeing and General Electric, each of which contributed $1.5 million in the 2000 election cycle alone.
The law -- "The FSC Repeal & Extraterritorial Income Exclusion Act of 2000" -- allows American companies to avoid paying taxes on 15 to 30 percent of their export profits. But while lawmakers from both parties were tripping over each other to dole out the corporate goodies, they were locked in hand-to-hand combat over boosting the minimum wage by a buck and funding increases for Head Start, new teachers and child-care for low-income families.
And this boondoggle passed despite the fact that similar export subsidies had already provoked the wrath of the European Union, which called on the WTO to hit the United States with $4 billion in trade sanctions. Apparently, our politicians' worship of free trade stops at the water's edge of massive campaign contributions.
No wonder donations from special interest groups increased by 80 percent since 1996 -- the rate of return is to drool over. For instance, the finance industry "invested" $66 million in the last election cycle. On Thursday it reaped a hefty dividend when the Senate passed a bill that will make it harder for consumers to declare bankruptcy and will add billions of dollars to the bottom line of banks and credit card companies.
Which is why the raising of money -- soft, hard and poached -- continues unabated. After raking in record-breaking totals for our endurance-testing presidential campaign, George W. Bush and Al Gore haven't missed a beat, hitting up donors to help pay for the election-without-end. Bush has raised close to $7.5 million since Election Day to help defray his legal expenses, while Gore has taken in $3.3 million, including $100,000 from aerobics guru Jane Fonda and Slim-Fast founder S. Daniel Abraham -- supporting the notion that no one ever went broke overestimating the fat cells of the American people. Bush has also begun receiving soft money donations to help finance his transitional transition office -- just one more thing to sell off to the highest bidder.
So, what is to be done? Well, John McCain has promised that "we will have blood all over the floor of the Senate until we accede to the demands -- not the wishes, the demands -- of the American people to be represented in Washington again." He has vowed to "take any action necessary" to eliminate the "corrupting influence of soft money." This may have to include outright defiance of the man McCain endorsed for president, an avowed opponent of the bill.
The cry to "count every vote" that has echoed from Florida across the nation needs to be coupled with a cry to "make every vote count," instead of being nullified by the power of big-money donors. Because an "undervote" is not just a vote that hasn't been counted by a machine; it's also a vote that doesn't count when politicians place contributors' interests above the public interest. I mean, why even count the votes at all if it's just to decide who gets to sell off public policy?
"This system cannot endure," said Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., of our electoral process. "It will undermine confidence in our democracy." He's clearly failed to notice that confidence in our democracy -- as expressed by the 87 million people who didn't bother to vote and the 60 percent who did vote but are "disgusted" by politics -- is already undermined. And it will not be restored just by replacing some outdated Votamatic machines.
Torricelli, the Democrats' fund-raiser extraordinaire, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Human Roadblock to Campaign Finance Reform, are co-sponsoring a bill that would create a federal commission to upgrade voting methods across the nation, with $100 million earmarked to implement its recommendations. That's the ratio in the kind of democracy McConnell and Torricelli want to preserve: $60 billion for corporate fat cats and $100 million for electoral reform, which they hope will slake the people's thirst for more fundamental reform.Florida has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that the way we vote doesn't work -- and is indeed a threat to our democracy. Washington proves every day that the way we finance our campaigns doesn't work. What kind of crisis will it take for us to do something about this even greater threat? After all, it's what happens between Election Days that's the real problem.
© 2004 Christabella, Inc. All rights reserved.
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