Community Forum: Private interests erode safeguards

This week’s writer is Bill Schubart, a Vermont entrepreneur, author and commentator on VPR. He writes about Vermont and the nation in fiction, humor and opinion pieces.
For generations, the organizing principles of tribal and melting pot societies have been religion, commerce and government. Each has occasioned both great human advancement and incalculable human suffering. They are, after all, only frameworks populated by imperfect human beings.
Our government was founded with both religion and commerce firmly in mind, wanting both to thrive — but within an agreed-upon framework. Separation of church and state ensured that citizens might worship, or not, according to their own beliefs and that no single religion could ever impose its beliefs on another. Trade and commerce regulation grew out of the need to establish rules within which commerce could bring its many economic and social benefits to citizens while ensuring fairness and equal access.
Citizens, religions and businesses were guaranteed input and redress through the unique executive, legislative and judicial arms of government. There were also clear constitutional safeguards to ensure that business and religion never became arms of government. But today, those safeguards have eroded badly in America, endangering the democratic process.
Citizens United has ceded to business rights ascribed originally only to citizens. Business, in turn, is using these new rights to ensure their own agenda at a significant cost to individual taxpayers, since these investments in elections and legislation are tax deductible. Both Politico and The New York Times reported recently that to this end, Freedom Partners, a conservative “money and message” group largely controlled by the Koch brothers, has spent in excess of a quarter billion dollars.
Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who voted for attacking Syria, on average received 80 percent more from defense contractors than those who voted against. According to The New York Times, junior members of congress fight to get assignments on the Senate Finance Committee, where average annual campaign contributions to committee members from banks and financial services companies they are supposed to regulate exceed $125,000 each.
The NRA and gun manufacturers have successfully engineered the recall of two Colorado senators. Suggestions for revisions for the U.S. Tax Code are now being offered under a cloak of absolute secrecy to prevent reprisals by business interests. Regulatory agencies are populated largely with business interests and are underfunded to discourage enforcement.
In short, businesses and their trade organizations like the NRA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and pharma have bought their way deeply into both lawmaking and regulation. When boundaries are breached in war, they’re often impossible to restore. When fundamental government boundaries are likewise breached, they, too, are difficult to reestablish, especially when those responsible for maintaining those boundaries are afloat in a sea of cash.
This is not a conservative or liberal issue, it’s about democratic survival. When we examine our own political conscience, we use euphemisms like campaign finance, political advocacy, job creators, and gerrymandering. But when we call out our peers in the international community, we call it corruption.

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