Time To Lock Up The Lobbyists

There was a time when corporations didn't have anything close to the power they do over politics in America.

From the time of the Progressive Revolution at the beginning of the 20th century up until the mid-1950’s, most states had laws that explicitly barred corporations from buying off politicians and spending millions to influence legislation. In fact, there were laws on the books in virtually every state, often from the mid-1800’s to the mid-1900’s, that made it a crime for corporations to give money to lawmakers, political parties, or political committees. Until 1953, Wisconsin had one of those laws.

Wisconsin’s law against political contributions by corporations read in part, “No corporation doing business in this state shall pay or contribute, or offer consent or agree to pay or contribute, directly or indirectly, any money, property, free service of its officers or employees or thing of value to any political party, organization, committee or individual for any political purpose whatsoever, or for the purpose of influencing legislation of any kind, or to promote or defeat the candidacy of any person for nomination, appointment or election to any political office.”

So, what were the punishments for a corporation or corporate executive caught violating that law? If it was an in-state corporation that violated the law, that corporation could be dissolved - it would get the corporate death penalty. If it was an out-of-state corporation, it could be barred from doing business in the state. Meanwhile, people acting on behalf of a corporation who were caught faced stiff fines, up to five years of prison time, or both.

On top of that, Teddy Roosevelt got the Tillman Act passed in 1907 that made it a federal crime for a corporation to give money to any candidate for federal office. The Tillman Act, by the way, was blown up by five right-wing justices on the Supreme Court with the Citizens United decision. Unfortunately, over time, laws like the one in Wisconsin were wiped from the books, and slowly but surely, corporate corruption and bribery have found their way into our political landscape.

The fallout from Nixon's crimes - including him accepting personal bribes while Vice President and President - brought some new reforms in the mid-1970’s, but most of those have been rolled back by the Supreme Court as well. That brings us to today, where corporations have unprecedented power, influence, and control over our political landscape.

Today, America’s largest corporations are spending small fortunes lobbying or simply buying lawmakers in Washington and across the country. But, in today’s day and age, lobbying lawmakers to support specific legislation isn’t enough for corporations. They also have to win over the hearts and minds of the American people, in order to get people to vote against their own self-interest.

A new study from The Center for Public Integrity reveals that corporate America is spending billions and billions of dollars on advertising and PR efforts.

Take the American Petroleum Institute for example. API, the mouthpiece for Big Oil corporations, spent over $7 million lobbying federal officials in 2012. But, as the Center for Public Integrity points out, “that sum was dwarfed by the $85.5 million it paid to four public relations and advertising firms to, in effect, lobby the American public – including $51.9 million just to global PR giant Edelman.”

Meanwhile, CPI notes that business associations and trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spent at least $214.9 million on PR and advertising campaigns between 2008 and 2012. And, according to CPI, America’s food and beverage industry shelled out an estimated $104.5 million on advertising and PR campaigns between 2008 and 2012. A lot of that comes from the American Beverage Association, which continues to spend millions on stopping states from taxing unhealthy sugary drinks.

It’s bad enough that corporations are spending billions to buy off our lawmakers and corrupt our democracy. But now, they’re spending billions more to convince us that we should support or ignore their bad behavior, and strip our own government of the power to protect us from these predators.

Whether it’s in the form of lobbying efforts or advertising campaigns, there’s too much corporate cash floating around and influencing the political process. It’s that simple. We need to amend our Constitution to undo the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decisions, and to say that corporations are not people and that money is not speech.

And, while we’re at it, let’s bring back those political contribution laws that safeguarded our political process and that worked so well for so many years.


bernie.williams's picture
bernie.williams 8 years 2 weeks ago

Great article as usual. Spoilt only an image of Thom "Trying out my brother's .40 cal".

Hardly an appropriate image for someone so opposed to the US's liberal gun laws.

Bernie, Brisbane, Australia

ChristopehrCurrie's picture
ChristopehrCurrie 8 years 2 weeks ago

Rather than hoping that we can pass a US Constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision, it would be far more appropriate to simply IMPEACH the five Republican "Justices" who LIED BLATANTLY in order to "justify" that so-called "ruling" which fundamentally amended the US Constituion without going through the amendment process which the US Constitution requires. There is presently NOTHING in the US Constitution that comes even close to justifying their claim that "corporations are people" as far as constitutional rights are concerned. The US Constitution has NOT been so amended. Their ruling was a BOLD-FACED LIE!

Those five "Justices" should be IMPEACHED and removed from office for violating BOTH of the Oaths of Office that they swore to uphold in order to become a Supreme Court Justice! Then the remaining Supreme Court Justices can repair the IMMENSE DAMAGE which those five dishonorable Republican Supreme Court "Justices" have inflicted on the American people.

douglas m 8 years 2 weeks ago

That would be awesome to get rid of a supreme court judge for trustworthyness.

Is that even possible and has it been done before.

If not it should be.

cwolmak's picture
cwolmak 8 years 2 weeks ago

This all comes from corporations are people and money is free speach, which you can thank the scotus for. SCOTUS is heavely republican and republicans are heavely for the rich and corporations. They also put Bush in as President. I so wish President Obama would do as FDR did, Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937. President Obama needs to flood the judicial system with more Supreme Court judges that will be less republican and more for the people and the constituition.

RLTOWNSLEY's picture
RLTOWNSLEY 8 years 2 weeks ago

A good start would be to significantly reduce the term of Supreme Court Judges, back when a life time term was established the average lifetime was somewhere around fifty to sixty years. Most members appointed to the court by George W. Bush could still be in office in the forth decade of this century !

Actually this should also apply to members of the Congress. If we can term limit the Executive, who is elected by a majority of all the citizens in this country, then why not term limit members of Congress who are elected to office by a majority of voters in their relatively tiny home districts ?

The point here is that no one should be allowed to stay in national elected office until they become firmly entrenched !

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 2 weeks ago

It's nothing less than legalized bribery. "Campaign contributions.," "Money is speech." What a horrible joke. If these laws existed in 1907, and not in 2007, it just goes to show that we are going backwards as a nation. Reverse evolution. What a disgrace! We should be ashamed of ourselves. Imagine what the rest of the civilized educated world thinks of us.

RichardofJeffersonCity's picture
RichardofJeffer... 8 years 2 weeks ago

Maybe we could smoke some dope, hold hands and sing protest songs until all the bad karma is gone.

cccccttttt 8 years 2 weeks ago

The US as a nation state is but an illusion.

Behold the "corporate enterprise zone".

---jobs are exported, small towns die

---illegals flood the country, employers buy their labor

---work visas for Indian programmers, our grads live at home

---a mercenary army, we hang out at the mall

---lawless CEOs pay a fine, shoplifters do time

---banks are bailed, upside down home owners onto the streets

---corporations are legal persons, money is their speech

---over 40 and unemployed, then do the cost effective thing: die

Forget the national anthem, just sing "its all about the bottom line".


DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 2 weeks ago
Quote RichardofJeffer...:Maybe we could smoke some dope, hold hands and sing protest songs until all the bad karma is gone.

RichardofJeffer... ~ Sure we could! it won't help now any more than it did in the 60's; but, it sure will take the edge off while the world crumbles around us. "Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya!"

Gator Girl 8 years 2 weeks ago

ChristopopehrCurrie, I agree whole heartedly. If EVER there has been a time when members of SCOTUS should be impeached it is not!!! Scalia's statements and the fact that he parties with lobbyists continually is reason enough that he should NEVER be allowed to hear another case before the court in his lifetime. Thomas is Scalia's lackey and has his nose so far up Scalia's ass that it will break off if Scalia makes a sharp turn. Roberts and Alito seem to waffle back and forth and cannot seem to make up their mind which side they are on and are definitely defending our Constitution. I have a lot of respect for Ruth Bader Ginsberg who would like to much to retire after 2 buts with cancer and other ailments but I am in full agreement with her statement to the effect that there is not a judge available right not whom whe would trust to sit on the court. For whomever has the job of doing so, IMPEACH these justices at once and then we can maybe get back to a court where we have some belief that they are going that for which they were chosen and that is to uphold our CONSTITUTION!! NOT being done by the SCROTUM 5!

Gator Girl 8 years 2 weeks ago

I'm afraid you are right ccccccttttt - and it is sad

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