Money corrupts Congress

By ERNEST F. HOLLINGS, former U. S. senator


APRIL 22, 2014 -- People know that money has corrupted elections but don't realize that money has completely corrupted Congress.

All members of Congress know the value of friendship. You make friends with all the members because you never know when you will need their vote. In 1967, six Democrats and six Republicans met every Wednesday night at a Senator's home; coats off, drinks and giving each other hell.

We became fast friends. I never had better friends than Republicans Bill Saxbe of Ohio and Ted Stevens of Alaska. Friendship was above political party. But after the Buckley decision, Senators started raising money against each other. Partisanship set in. Now, money has taken over campaigns and Congress.

Maurice Stans, Chairman of the Finance Committee for Nixon for President, in 1968 raised money on a "cash and carry" basis. To stop this and to make sure that one could not buy the office, Congress in 1971 (long before Watergate) and 1973, voted to limit spending in elections. President Nixon signed the law which was overturned by the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo. The Court created "political speech" with First Amendment protection by finding "…virtually every means of communicating ideas in today's mass society requires the expenditure of money."

Congress has tried to correct Buckley with McCain Feingold, public financing, etc. But on appeal, the agenda driven Court is determined to remove all restrictions on spending. In Citizens United, the Court gives unlimited speech, unlimited spending to a Corporation, a legal entity. Now with the McCutcheon decision, the idle rich can buy the office.

After Buckley, Party Committees took over the fundraising which became constant. Schedules were changed to fundraise. On February 22nd, Washington's Birthday, a Senator would read Washington's Farewell Address at noon and we'd vote in the afternoon. Now, we've merged Lincoln's birthday, Feb 12th with Washington's for a ten day break to go to Hollywood to fundraise. Thursday's lunch was reserved for policy meetings. Now on Thursday, Senators go to Party Headquarters to make calls for money. We used to hate filibusters; now, love them. One Senator from each party holds the floor and the other 98 Senators travel to fundraise.

The 12,000 lobbyists in Washington have taken control of Congress. Today, Lyndon Johnson couldn't lead the Senate. Lobbyists work directly with Senators and fix the vote long before the roll is called. In fact, they tell the Speaker or Leader when to call the roll. Money has wrested control of the campaign from the candidate. Running for reelection, Senators learn that he or she is campaigning on the rich contributor's issues rather than his or her issues. Campaigning at fundraisers, you only meet supporters praising you. You can't get to the Courthouse, Fire Station or Main Street to find out what people are really thinking. The Senator becomes "out of touch".

You can't outlaw offshoring but you can make it profitable for Corporate America to produce in America by replacing the 35% Corporate Tax with a 7% Value Added Tax. You also need to protect production vital to the economy. This immediately releases $2 trillion in offshore profits for Corporate America to repatriate tax free and create millions of jobs. It permits Congress to balance the budget in two years rather than ten. Wall Street, the Big Banks and Corporate America want to keep the offshore profits flowing so their lobbyists contribute to Congress against a VAT; against rebuilding our economy. The lobbyists give the United States a bleeding economy with no jobs and no thought of stopping the bleeding.

Only a Constitutional Amendment: "Empowering Congress to limit or control spending in federal elections" will correct this situation. Five of the last six amendments to the Constitution deal with elections and this is more important than any of the five. The States are ready to ratify.

When you limit spending in elections:

1.) Fundraising is limited

2.) Lobbyists are limited which returns control of Congress to Congress

3.) Partisanship is limited

4.) Filibusters become real

5.) The Senator has time to do his or her work

6.) The Senator has time to see constituents instead of contributors

7.) No one can buy the office

8.) The Senator regains control of his or her campaign

9.) Congress can create jobs and balance the budget

10.) Congress can protect vital production and rebuild the economy.

Senator Hollings of South Carolina served 38 years in the United States Senate, and for many years was Chairman of the Commerce, Space, Science & Transportation Committee. He is the author of Making Government Work (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).

© 2014, Ernest F. Hollings. All rights reserved. Contact us for republication permission.

About Fritz Hollings

Ernest F. Hollings served the public for 56 years -- 38 years in the United States Senate and as South Carolina's governor, lieutenant governor and a member of the S.C. House of Representatives.

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