Nothing deepens your cynicism quicker than the power of money in American politics.
A new report by the Center for Public Integrity tracks Federal Communications Commission officials receiving nearly $2.8 million in travel and entertainment contributions over the past eight years, nearly all of it from the industries the agency regulates. This includes 330 trips to Las Vegas alone, with another ninety-eight to London, where, I admit, the restaurants are much improved in recent years, but which does not happen to fall under the FCC’s jurisdiction. The top three trip sponsors were the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association.
When you look at the dollars the constituent companies of these trade associations stand to earn once the FCC relaxes the laws intended to preserve free speech and democratic debate in this country on June 2, you’ll shake your head at just how cheaply our “democracy” sells itself. Just a few of the goodies chairman Michael Powell is wheeling and dealing away include limits on both national and local TV-station ownership and limits on owning both newspaper and TV stations in the same market; in other words, the very preservation of our “marketplace of ideas.”
Of course, telecommunications is just one area where money speaks louder than people. While the problem of money’s power has always been and will always be with us, it is, like the budget deficit, exploding under the Bush Administration. The Bush campaign raised more than $22 million in just one night recently without breaking a sweat, with Bush finishing his address promptly at 7:45, putting him back home, as one Washington Post wag noted, “in time to catch plenty of the Yankees and Red Sox on ESPN.”
The Bushites expect to be showered with at least $200 million in the coming election cycle. This will allow them to forgo all spending limits and make life miserable for the cash-strapped Democrats 24/7. Much of this money is “donated” in order to buy big-ticket items: the despoilment of the environment, the next generation of nuclear missiles, roadblocks in the path of generic arthritis and heart-attack medicines and the like. But some of it is pure, old-fashioned job procurement. Last time around, top fund-raiser–“Rangers,” in the new Bush parlance–Mercer Reynolds of Cincinnati helped raise $605,082, and the next thing you know, the folks in Geneva were calling him “Mr. Ambassador.” Slovakia went to Ronald Weiser of Michigan for a mere $588,309. Howard Leach of California got the hardship post of Paris for the bargain-basement price of $429,610, according to Federal Election Commission documents originally published in the New York Times.