One of the most repeated complaints about government … city hall to Washington DC … is we’re at the mercy of “vested interests” influencing politicians. Sometimes, that’s a legitimate complaint. But it’s not really the real reason for our unhappiness with government. That has it’s roots in another often-heard criticism: “too much money in politics.”

The most recent bad “vested interest” evidence comes in the oil disaster in the Gulf; how BP … among others … influenced government workers who were supposed to be inspectors and watchdogs; how BP … among others … compromised safety and environmental protections. “Vested interests?” Certainly. Did they do wrong? It appears so.

Remember those “vested interest” complaints arising during the fracas over our new health care law. Insurance companies were made out to be really bad guys. And many were. Oh, let’s not forget Wall Street. All very “vested interests.”

Now, consider. Suppose your mayor and some city council members go to Salem, Olympia, Boise or Washington DC., meeting with legislators or congressmen to get support/money for a new bridge and a highway. They take charts, graphs, reams of documents and really press the case. “Vested interests.” Only this time, they’re doing our business to make things better for us.

Say next week, your county commissioners go to Washington to see USFS and BLM decision-makers. They want increased timber cuts, more local involvement in timber management decisions and action to get rid of diseased forests. Doing the good works we elected them to do. “Vested interests.” Again, on our behalf.

As citizens … corporate or individual … we have the guaranteed right to try to move political people this way and that. They don’t always have the familiarity with all our needs that we do so they rely on us to tell them. It’s been that way since 1776.

The oft-repeated claim “vested interests are running government” probably isn’t entirely true. Even if it were, it’s not always a bad thing.

But … too much money? It’s nearly impossible to make an argument for more dollars for politicians. The only people seemingly wanting to dispute that make up a majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.

A recent SCOTUS decision says, in sum, the right of free speech for corporations, unions and other entities is the same as individuals, appearing to run counter to many settled cases on the subject. Some legal puritan … an oxymoron … may argue on strict legal grounds the Court is being consistent. Not to me. My response is the Court has broken new ground flying in the face of other decisions.

For a Court whose members … especially conservatives … have repeatedly said they wouldn’t be “activist” judges, making new law from the bench, that seems to be what they did.

Say General Motors, Ford and the other companies want to gut the timetable for making more efficient, less-polluting cars. How many dollars could they throw in the pot … all in the name of corporate/individual right of free speech? Millions? Hundreds of millions? And you and me? Well, I’m good for twenty bucks. How ‘bout you? And what about our rights of “free speech” if we want those laws maintained?

Not all corporations will sit out there waiting to take advantage of this legal travesty. Many of them will use their speech “right” to work for better things. But long, old history tells us there are those that’ll take this opening to new heights of abuse.

I speak from experience. As former president of a large trade association, I typed the checks handing out dollars approved by the Political Action Committee. Decisions of whom to support or ignore were often made on grounds of self service rather than which candidate was ethical, intelligent or deserving of support. It was a task I hated.

Sent to Washington to lobby Congress, I was often “invited” to a “reception” for Congressman So-And-So. It made no difference if I didn’t show up as long as the check did; usually a thousand was the minimally accepted level. Some days there’d be three of these.

So I don’t get worked up when people talk of “vested interests.” We citizen “interests” can get our shot.

But evidence money adversely affects and overwhelms the interests of we, the citizens, is indisputable. Doubt on the subject is nonexistent. Unless you are a majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Comments are closed.