Lobbyists control

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

MAY 30, 2014 -- Upon losing his twenty year old son to gun violence and referring to the ten year olds killed at Sandy Hook, Martinez, the father, cried in despair: "Can't somebody do something?" No, Congress won't because they are paid to do nothing.


In 1966, we were friends in the Congress, wheeled and dealed, fixing the vote. In a bipartisan vote in 1971, 1973 we limited spending in elections. President Nixon signed the law. The Supreme Court in Buckley vs. Valeo reversed the law, making the fatal mistake of equating money with speech. Hiring a campaign manager; renting a headquarters; or employing a pollster is spending, not speech. TV, the most expensive cost in politics, is recorded speech but you have to spend for the recording.

The Koch brothers and I have free speech. But according to the Supreme Court, the Koch brothers have way more "free speech" in politics because they have way more money. For thirty years, Congress has tried to correct the mistake in Buckley with McCain Feingold, public financing, amending the Constitution, etc. But, the Supreme Court gets worse and worse. In Citizens United, the Court gave Corporations unlimited spending and in McCutcheon, the Court permits the rich to buy the office. Only a Constitutional Amendment will suffice.

After Buckley, Senators started raising unlimited funds against each other; party committees took over; partisanship set in and lobbyists, with the money, took control. Lobbyists, instead of Senators, wheeled and dealed and fixed the vote. Today, lobbyists contribute directly to the Senators - not through the Leader. Lyndon Johnson couldn't lead the Senate today. The National Rifle Association controls the gun vote. Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform has half of the House and almost half of the Senate pledged against taxes or paying for government. The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) controls the Israel-Palestine vote. Wall Street, the Big Banks and Corporate America control the economic and trade policy vote.

The Great Recession has been over for five years. Our lagged economy is caused by Wall Street, the Big Banks and Corporate America wanting to keep the offshore profits flowing. So they contribute to the President and Congress to do nothing. Corporate America doesn't want the President and Congress to compete in globalization; to make it profitable for Corporate America to produce in America; to limit the offshoring or enforce our trade laws against closed markets and predatory practices -- to do nothing. The lobbyists control the President, the Congress, and the government.

Senator Mark Udall for years has had a Joint Resolution pending in the Senate with numerous co-sponsors amending the Constitution to empower Congress to limit or control spending in elections. I had a similar amendment in 2002, 2003, and 2004. The Republican leader at the time wanted a vote on the flag burning amendment to the Constitution and asked that I withhold my spending limit amendment. I refused and no Joint Resolution was considered in the Senate for my last three years. Senators have a six year advantage to fundraise and don't want to lose this advantage by voting to limit. They certainly don't want to be caught voting against limiting.

Fortunately, Senator Harry Reid, the Leader, says he will call the Udall Reid Amendment for a vote. Reid already has 41 cosponsors. Now, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas complains that Democrats want to "take away your free speech". If people understand that spending is not speech, we can get Congress to vote on the amendment. Limiting spending in elections will limit lobbyists' control of Congress; no one can buy the office; it will limit partisanship; fundraising will be limited and Congress can regain control of the government.

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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